Molecular modeling of interfacial layer-by-layer assembly towards functionalized capsule materials
AW Ruttinger and P Clancy, NANOSCALE, 13, 19915-19928 (2021).
Encapsulated nanomaterials, such as polymer-coated nanoemulsions, have highly tunable properties leading to versatile applications. A current lack of understanding of the fundamentals governing the choice of "capsule" materials (polyelectrolyte + surfactant) and its ensuing performance effectively precludes their widespread use. Computational methods can start to redress this by discovering molecule-scale attributes that significantly control the design of capsule materials tuned to fit desired properties. We use molecular dynamics (MD) to carry out the layer-by-layer (LbL) assembly of six unique polyelectrolyte bilayer systems at a surfactant-mediated interface, modeling early-stage capsule synthesis. Monolayer thickness is related to layer density and polyelectrolyte/surfactant interaction energy through polyelectrolyte molecular weight and radius of gyration, respectively, yielding a simple relationship between absorption kinetics and layer structure. For the second monolayer, faster absorption kinetics are observed for pairings of polyelectrolytes with similarly sized functional groups. Surfactants with a more delocalized charge on the head-group catalyze the build-up of ions at the interface, resulting in faster absorption kinetics and greater confinement of the encapsulated material but leading to thicker, less uniform bilayers. These relationships between capsule building block molecules and nanomaterial capsule properties provide a foundation for property prediction and rational design of optimized multi- functional capsule materials.
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