Electroresponsive Polyelectrolyte Brushes Studied by Self-Consistent Field Theory

Polymers (Basel). 2020 Apr 13;12(4):898. doi: 10.3390/polym12040898.


End-grafting of polyelectrolyte chains to conducting substrates offers an opportunity to fabricate electro-responsive surfaces capable of changing their physical/chemical properties (adhesion, wettability) in response to applied electrical voltage. We use a self-consistent field numerical approach to compare the equilibrium properties of tethered strong and weak (pH-sensitive) polyelectrolytes to applied electrical field in both salt-free and salt-containing solutions. We demonstrate that both strong and weak polyelectrolyte brushes exhibit segregation of polyions in two populations if the surface is oppositely charged with respect to the brush. This segregation gives rise to complex patterns in the dependence of the brush thickness on salt concentration. We demonstrate that adjustable ionization of weak polyelectrolytes weakens their conformational response in terms of the dependence of brush thickness on the amplitude of the applied voltage.

Keywords: polyelectrolyte brushes; self-consistent field theory; smart interfaces.