Random, blocky and alternating ordering in supramolecular polymers of chemically bidisperse monomers

Sara Jabbari-Farouji 1, 2, 3, Paul Van Der Schoot 2, 4

Journal of Chemical Physics 137 (2012) 064906

As a first step to understanding the role of molecular or chemical polydispersity in self-assembly, we put forward a coarse-grained model that describes the spontaneous formation of quasi-linear polymers in solutions containing two self-assembling species. Our theoretical framework is based on a two-component self-assembled Ising model in which the bidispersity is parameterized in terms of the strengths of the binding free energies that depend on the monomer species involved in the pairing interaction. Depending upon the relative values of the binding free energies involved, different morphologies of assemblies that include both components are formed, exhibiting paramagnetic-, ferromagnetic- or anti ferromagnetic-like order, i.e., random, blocky or alternating ordering of the two components in the assemblies. Analyzing the model for the case of ferromagnetic ordering, which is of most practical interest, we find that the transition from conditions of minimal assembly to those characterized by strong polymerization can be described by a critical concentration that depends on the concentration ratio of the two species. Interestingly, the distribution of monomers in the assemblies is different from that in the original distribution, i.e., the ratio of the concentrations of the two components put into the system. The monomers with a smaller binding free energy are more abundant in short assemblies and monomers with a larger binding affinity are more abundant in longer assemblies. Under certain conditions the two components congregate into separate supramolecular polymeric species and in that sense phase separate. We find strong deviations from the expected growth law for supramolecular polymers even for modest amounts of a second component, provided it is chemically sufficiently distinct from the main one.

  • 1. Laboratoire de Physique Théorique et Modèles Statistiques (LPTMS),
    CNRS : UMR8626 – Université Paris XI - Paris Sud
  • 2. Theory of Polymer and Soft Matter Group,
    Eindhoven University of Technology
  • 3. Dutch Polymer Institute,
    Dutch Polymer Institute
  • 4. Institute for Theoretical Physics,,
    Utrecht University