Atomistic Modeling of Plastic Deformation in Semicrystalline Polyethylene: Role of Interphase Topology, Entanglements, and Chain Dynamics

R Ranganathan and V Kumar and AL Brayton and M Kroger and GC Rutledge, MACROMOLECULES, 53, 4605-4617 (2020).

DOI: 10.1021/acs.macromol.9b02308

The effects of interphase topology, entanglements, and chain dynamics on the mechanical response of semicrystalline polyethylene have been examined using atomistic simulations. In particular, the prevalence of the cavitation and melting/recrystallization mechanisms for yield and plastic flow were found to depend on both topological and dynamical properties of the molecular segments in the semicrystalline interphase. First, two different protocols were used during preparation of the interphase ensemble to modulate the distribution of (i) loops, bridges, and tails and (ii) entanglements within the noncrystalline domain. A protocol denoted "step-wise cooling" produced structures having a large fraction of long, entangled segments that yielded by the melting/recrystallization mechanism about 50% of the time. By contrast, the protocol denoted "instantaneous quench" produced structures that yielded by melting/recrystallization about 73% of the time. Second, two different united atom force fields, PYS and TraPPE-UA, that exhibit nearly identical topological characteristics of the noncrystalline domain but different mobilities were used to study the effect of chain dynamics on yield mechanisms. At the slower strain rate used in this work, yield and plastic flow proceeded exclusively via cavitation for the model using the TraPPE-UA force field, whereas both cavitation and melting/recrystallization were observed for the model using the PYS force field. The greater prevalence of melting/recrystallization in the latter case is attributed to faster chain-sliding dynamics in the crystalline domain. The dependences of the yield mechanism on topology and dynamics are found to be related.

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