Collapse of spherical polyelectrolyte brushes in the presence of multivalent counterions

Phys Rev Lett. 2006 Oct 13;97(15):158301. doi: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.97.158301. Epub 2006 Oct 9.


We consider the interaction of multivalent counterions with spherical polyelectrolyte brushes (SPB). The SPB result if linear polyelectrolyte (PE) chains (contour length: 60 nm) are densely grafted to colloidal spheres of 116 nm in diameter. Dispersed in water, the surface layer consisting of chains of the strong PE poly(styrene sulfonic acid) (PSS) will swell. We demonstrate that successive addition of trivalent ions (La3+) leads to a collapse in which the surface layer is shrinking drastically. All findings are discussed on the base of a theoretical mean-field approach using the Donnan equilibrium. The ion exchange and a strong binding of trivalent ions by PE chains is followed up by a drop in the osmotic pressure inside the brush. This reduction is the driving force for the collapse. The strong ion-chain correlation is discussed with results obtained from molecular dynamics simulations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cations
  • Electrolytes / chemistry*
  • Lanthanum / chemistry*
  • Models, Chemical*
  • Polystyrenes / chemistry*


  • Cations
  • Electrolytes
  • Polystyrenes
  • Lanthanum
  • polystyrene sulfonic acid