We consider single chain force measurements to unravel characteristics of polymers at interfaces and to determine parameters that control adsorption or probe layer characteristics that are difficult to access otherwise. The idea is to have at the tip of an atomic force microscope (AFM), a probe chain and measure its behaviour near interfaces by pushing it to, or pulling it away from it. The self-consistent field modeling of this reveals that in the pulling mode-i.e., when the chain has an affinity for the surface-a typically inhomogeneous flower-like conformation forms with an adsorbed 'pancake' and a stretched stem (tether) from the surface to the tip of the AFM. When about half the segments is in the tether it snaps loose in a first-order like fashion. The critical distance of the end-point from the surface and the critical force are experimentally accessible. Details of this transition depend on the surrounding of the test chain. Inversely, and this opens up many possibilities, the test chain reports about its surroundings. Our focus is on the classical case of homopolymers at interfaces. Pulling experiments may reveal the adsorption strength, the (average) chain length and/or the polymer concentration of the freely dispersed/adsorbed polymers. When the test-chain is non-adsorbing we envision that pushing this test-chain into the adsorption layer reports about various layer characteristics such as the layer thickness and (local) density. Moreover, when the test-chain has a length longer than the entanglement length, we can imagine that non-trivial dynamical properties of loops and tails may be scrutinised.
- Coil-to-flower phase transition
- Force spectroscopy of polymer desorption
- Polymers at interfaces