We have investigated the formation of stable clusters of poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) (pNIPAM) chains in water at temperatures above the lower critical solution temperature (LCST), induced by the presence of sodium tetraphenylborate, NaPh4B. The hydrophobic Ph4B– ions interact strongly with the pNIPAM chains, providing them with a net effective negative charge, which leads to the stabilization of pNIPAM clusters for temperatures above the LCST, with a mean cluster size that depends non-monotonically on salt concentration.
Combining experiments with physical modeling at the mesoscopic level and atomistic molecular dynamic simulations, we show that this effect is caused by the interplay between the hydrophobic attraction between pNIPAM chains and the electrostatic repulsion induced by the associated Ph4B– ions. These results provide insight on the significance of weak associative anion–polymer interaction driven by hydrophobic interaction and how this anionic binding can prevent macroscopic phase separation. Harvesting the competition between attractive hydrophobic and repulsive electrostatic interaction opens avenues for the dynamic control of the formation of well-calibrated polymer microparticles.
Bioactive materials for therapy and diagnosis
Interaction-Limited Aggregation: Fine-Tuning the Size of pNIPAM Particles by Association with Hydrophobic Ions
Jordi Faraudo*, Arturo Moncho-Jordá, Delfi Bastos-González, and Carlos Drummond*
Macromolecules 2023, 56, 6, 2246–2257