Unravelling the effects of size, volume fraction and shape of nanoparticle additives on crystallization of nanocomposite polymers†
We conducted large scale molecular dynamics simulations to understand the effects of size, shape and volume fraction of additive nanoparticles on the crystallization of nanocomposite polymers. We used spherical and cubic gold nanoparticles of various sizes ranging from 2 to 8 nm to create hexacontane (C60H122)–gold nanocomposites at various volume fractions of 0.84–19.27%. We show that, regardless of the shape, decreasing the size of particles at the same volume fraction results in decreased final crystallinity. Similarly, for the same particle size, increasing the volume fraction causes a decrease in the crystal growth rate and final crystallinity. We demonstrate that this is a confinement induced phenomenon, and the free interparticle space captures the combined effects of particle size and volume fraction. If this free space is smaller than the extended length of the molecule or the characteristic size of the crystal lamella thickness of the polymer, significant slow-down in crystallinity will emerge. In this confinement limit, the interparticle free space controls the crystal growth rate and final crystallinity. We have developed the equations that predict the critical volume fraction (φcr) for a given size or critical size (Dcr) for a given volume fraction. For φ > φcr or D < Dcr, one would expect confinement induced retardation of crystallization. We also show that cubic particles result in a higher growth rate and crystallinity in comparison to spherical particles, purely due to their shape. Furthermore, cubic particles due to flat surfaces lead to distinct two-tier crystallisation kinetics manifested by enhanced crystallization at the early stage of crystallization, followed by slow crystallization due to confinement effects. This two-tier crystallization is more distinct at higher volume fractions. For spherical particles, however, this two-tier crystallization is almost absent and molecular crystallization near the particle is frustrated by the curved shape of the nanoparticle.