We report Brownian dynamics simulations of tracer diffusion in regularly crosslinked polymer networks in order to elucidate the transport of a tracer particle in polymer networks. The average mesh size of homogeneous polymer networks is varied by assuming different degrees of crosslinking or swelling, and the size of a tracer particle is comparable to the average mesh size. Simulation results show subdiffusion of a tracer particle at intermediate time scales and normal diffusion at long times. In particular, the duration of subdiffusion is significantly prolonged as the average mesh size decreases with increasing degree of crosslinking, for which long-time diffusion occurs via the hopping processes of a tracer particle after undergoing rattling motions within a cage of the network mesh for an extended period of time. On the other hand, the cage dynamics and hopping process are less pronounced as the mesh size decreases with increasing polymer volume fractions. The interpretation is provided in terms of fluctuations in network mesh size: at higher polymer volume fractions, the network fluctuations are large enough to allow for collective, structural changes of network meshes, so that a tracer particle can escape from the cage, whereas, at lower volume fractions, the fluctuations are so small that a tracer particle remains trapped within the cage for a significant period of time before making infrequent jumps out of the cage. This work suggests that fluctuation in mesh size, as well as average mesh size itself, plays an important role in determining the dynamics of molecules and nanoparticles that are embedded in tightly meshed polymer networks.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This research was funded by the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) under Grant Nos. NRF-2019R1A2C1084414 and NRF-2020R1A5A2019210.
© 2020 by the authors.
- Brownian dynamics
- Cage dynamics
- Crosslinked network
- Hopping process
- Tracer diffusion