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Entropy-driven phase behavior of associative polymer networks

Lorenzo Rovigatti, Francesco Sciortino

SciPost Phys. 15, 163 (2023) · published 16 October 2023


Polymer chains decorated with a fraction of monomers capable of forming reversible bonds form transient polymer networks that are important in soft and biological systems. If chains are flexible and the attractive monomers are all of the same species, the network formation occurs continuously as density increases. By contrast, it has been recently shown [Phys. Rev. Lett. 129, 047801 (2022)] that, if the attractive monomers are of two different and alternating types, the entropic gain of swapping intra-molecular bonds for inter-molecular connections induces a first order phase transition in the fully-bonded (i.e. low-temperature or, equivalently, large monomer-monomer attraction strength) limit and the network forms abruptly on increasing density. Here we use simulations to show that this phenomenon is robust with respect to thermal fluctuations, disorder and change in the polymer architecture, demonstrating its generality and likely relevance for the wide class of materials that can be modelled as associative (transient) polymer networks.

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