In this work, we have synthesized polystyrene particles that carry short end-grafted polyethylene glycol (PEG) chains. We then added dissolved 100 kDa PEG polymers and monitored potential flocculation by confocal microscopy. Qualitative predictions, based on previous theoretical developments in this field (Xie, F.; et al. Soft Matter 2016, 12, 658), suggest a non-monotonic temperature response. These theories propose that the “free” (dissolved) polymers will mediate attractive depletion interactions at room temperature, with a concomitant clustering/flocculation at a sufficiently high polymer concentration. At high temperatures, where the solvent is poorer, this is predicted to be replaced by attractive bridging interactions, again resulting in particle condensation. Interestingly enough, our theoretical framework, based on classical density functional theory, predicts an intermediate temperature regime where the polymer-mediated interactions are repulsive! This obviously implies a homogeneous dispersion in this regime. These qualitative predictions have been experimentally tested and confirmed in this work, where flocs of particles start to form at room temperature for a high enough polymer dosage. At temperatures near 45 °C, the flocs redisperse, and we obtain a homogeneous sample. However, samples at about 75 °C will again display clusters and eventually phase separation. Using results from these studies, we have been able to fine-tune parameters of our coarse-grained theoretical model, resulting in predictions of temperature-dependent stability that display semiquantitative accuracy. A crucial aspect is that under “intermediate” conditions, where the polymers neither adsorb nor desorb at the particle surfaces, the polymer-mediated equilibrium interaction is repulsive.
- Teoretisk kemi