Particles decorated by an ionizable thermoresponsive polymer brush in water: Experiments and self-consistent field modeling

S.P.C. Alves, J.P. Pinheiro, J.P.S. Farinha, F.A.M. Leermakers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


We have synthesized anionic multistimuli responsive core–shell polymer nanoparticles with low size dispersity composed of glassy poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA) cores of ca. 40 nm radius and poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) (PNIPAM) anionic brush-like shells with methacrylic acid comonomers. Using dynamic light scattering, we observed a volume phase transition upon an increase in temperature and this response was pH and ionic strength dependent. Already at room temperature we observed a pronounced polyelectrolyte effect, that is, a shift of the apparent pKa extracted from the degree of dissociation of the acids as a function of the pH. The multiresponsive behavior of the hydrophobic polyelectrolyte brush has been modeled using the Scheutjens–Fleer self-consistent field (SF-SCF) approach. Using a phenomenological relation between the Flory–Huggins ¿ parameter and the temperature, we confront the predicted change in the brush height with the observed change of the hydrodynamic radius and degree of dissociation and obtain estimates for the average chain lengths (number of Kuhn segments) of the corona chains, the grafting density and charge density distributions. The theory reveals a rich internal structure of the hydrophobic polyelectrolyte brush, especially near the collapse transition, where we find a microphase segregated structure. Considering this complexity, it is fair to state that the theoretical predictions follow the experimental data semiquantitatively, and it is attractive to attribute the observed disparity between theory and experiments to the unknown polydispersity of the chains, the unknown distribution of the charges, or other experimental complications. More likely, however, the deviations point to significant problems of the mean field theory, which focuses solely on the radial distributions and ignores the possibility of the formation of lateral (local) inhomogeneities in partially collapsed polyelectrolyte brushes. We argue that the PNIPAM brush at room temperature is already behaving nonideally.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3192-3206
Number of pages14
JournalThe Journal of Physical Chemistry Part B: Condensed Matter, Materials, Surfaces, Interfaces & Biophysical
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • star-branched polyelectrolytes
  • n-isopropylacrylamide
  • nanoparticles
  • shell
  • conformations
  • microgels


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