Diffusion dynamics of a single collapsed homopolymer globule at the solid–liquid interface
Contradictive to the conventional wisdom that a collapsed polymer globule in poor solvents adsorb on surfaces in a way analogous to the spreading of a liquid droplet, here we have shown via single molecule measurements that a single poly(N-isoporpylacrylamide) (PNIPAM) globule can jump from one spot to another as an elastic nonadhesive ball even on a hydrophobic polystyrene surface. The molecular weight dependence of the effective surface diffusion coefficient measured for the adsorbed globule suggested that it exhibited mostly a similar globular conformation to that in the bulk solution. Both the displacement and waiting time distributions of the adsorbed globules were found to follow a power-law decay rather than an exponential process, suggesting a broad distribution of binding energies due to the difference in degree of globule deformation. These effects together reflect a character of the viscoelasticity even in a single-chain globule in dilute solutions. Our findings also demonstrate that it is not the single-chain globule but the inter-globule aggregates at high concentration that lead to irreversible adsorption on the surface, which provides novel dynamics and mechanisms of how a thermosensitive polymer adsorbs on the hydrophobic surface above its lower critical solution temperature.