Conformational transitions of adsorption-responsive single diblock copolymers in homopolymer brushes
Using self-consistent field calculations, we examine the effect of brush polydispersity on conformational transitions of single adsorption-active diblock copolymer chains embedded in inert polydisperse brushes. To represent the polydispersity, we adopt the continuous Schulz–Zimm chain length distributions, and three typical distributions are chosen such that a wide range of polydispersity is covered. A phase diagram of the diblock copolymer switches has been constructed showing that the first order phase transitions occupy a larger space in the case of polydisperse brushes. We further characterize these first order phase transitions by specifying their transition points, transition widths and transition barriers, where the latter two are particularly important as they determine the performance of the polymer switches. Our calculation indicates that polydispersity has different effect on the switching behavior depending on the lengths of both the active block and the inert block of the copolymer switch chain. In general, polydispersity improves the switching performance in the case of short active blocks, i.e. shorter or not very longer than the average length of the brush chains, and the corresponding energy barrier is smaller than a few kBT. In contrast, monodisperse brushes have the advantages when these two blocks are particularly long, i.e., lower transition barriers and fast switching. Notably, when the inert block approaches the average length of the brush chains, the transition barrier becomes almost zero in any case for monodisperse brushes, while a large finite value is still observed for that in polydisperse brushes. The complex interplay between the brush polydispersity and the switch behavior is attributed to the wide-range repulsions generated by the polydisperse brushes.