Molecular Understanding of Ion Effect on Polyzwitterion Conformation in an Aqueous Environment

Y Xiang and RG Xu and YS Leng, LANGMUIR, 36, 7648-7657 (2020).

DOI: 10.1021/acs.langmuir.0c01287

Polyzwitterions (PZs) are promising materials for the antifouling in reverse osmosis and nanofiltration membrane technology for water treatment. Fundamental understanding of the structure and molecular interactions involving zwitterions is crucial to the optimal design of antifouling in membrane separation. Here we employ the umbrella sampling and molecular dynamics simulations to investigate molecular interactions between sulfobetaine/carboxybetaine zwitterions and different metal ions (Na+, K+, and Ca+) in an aqueous solution. The simulation results show that these ions can form stable or metastable contact ionic/solvent- shared-ionic pairs with zwitterions. Simulations at different grafting densities of PZ brush arrays reveal complex competitive association mechanisms, which are attributed to nonbonded electrostatic and van der Waals interactions among zwitterions, water molecules, and different metal ions in an aqueous environment. While the high-grafting density of the PZ brush array leads to a strong branch association between different zwitterions in water, this association is decreased at intermediate- and low-grafting densities due to strong zwitterion-water interactions. More importantly, adding ions into water at intermediate- and low-grafting densities further breaks down the zwitterion branch association, resulting in a randomly oriented and dispersed branch configuration with significant swelling of the polymers. The degree of swelling depends on the type of ions, which further changes the surface electrostatic potential of PZ coatings.

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