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J Phys Condens Matter. 2011 Jul 20;23(28):285102. doi: 10.1088/0953-8984/23/28/285102. Epub 2011 Jun 28.

Crowding of polymer coils and demixing in nanoparticle-polymer mixtures.

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Department of Physics, North Dakota State University, Fargo, ND 58108-6050, USA.


The Asakura-Oosawa-Vrij (AOV) model of colloid-polymer mixtures idealises nonadsorbing polymers as effective spheres that are fixed in size and impenetrable to hard particles. Real polymer coils, however, are intrinsically polydisperse in size (radius of gyration) and may be penetrated by smaller particles. Crowding by nanoparticles can affect the size distribution of polymer coils, thereby modifying effective depletion interactions and thermodynamic stability. To analyse the influence of crowding on polymer conformations and demixing phase behaviour, we adapt the AOV model to mixtures of nanoparticles and ideal, penetrable polymer coils that can vary in size. We perform Gibbs ensemble Monte Carlo simulations, including trial nanoparticle-polymer overlaps and variations in the radius of gyration. Results are compared with predictions of free-volume theory. Simulation and theory consistently predict that ideal polymers are compressed by nanoparticles, and that compressibility and penetrability stabilise nanoparticle-polymer mixtures.

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