Monte Carlo studies of polymer chain solubility in water



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Poly (Ethylene Oxide) (PEO, with a general formula (CH₂-CH₂-O)[subscript pi] ) is completely soluble in water at room temperature over an extremely wide molecular weight range and has been widely studied by experiment and theory. The objective of our work is to study the solubility behavior by the method of Monte Carlo simulation. The insertion factor lnB, which is equivalent to the infinite dilute Henry's Law Constant, is used to represent the solubility of various molecules in water. Our research started with simple fluid and aqueous solutions of small molecules including hard spheres, inert gases, hydrocarbons and dimethyl ether (DME, as a precursor for PEO). Solubility consists of a favorable energy term and an unfavorable entropy term. Against the common belief of entropy-dominating-hydrophobicity effect, it is actually the ability of the solute to interact with solvent (or the energetic factor) that dominates solubility. The solubility minimum appearing for both hydrophobic and hydrophilic solutes along the water coexistence curve is the result of competition between the favorable energy contribution and the unfavorable entropy contribution. Normal alkanes with carbon number from 1 to 20 have been modeled by LJ chains to study the solubility of non-polar polymer chains in water. Various constraints have been put on the LJ model to evaluate their effect on solubility. No significant difference was observed for LJ chain with or without fixed bond angles, but torsional interaction changed the chain solubility dramatically. The temperature and chain-length effect on chain solubility has been examined and it can be explained by the balancing between the intra-chain interaction and entropy penalty. By choosing the right torsional interaction parameters we may be able to reproduce by simulations the solubility minimum of normal alkanes at C₁₁. PEO was modeled by united atom chains with length up to 30. The most probable distance between two nearest ether oxygens in both vacuum and aqueous solutions matches the hydrogen bond length in bulk water. Hydrogen bonding plays an important role in the unique water solubility behavior of PEO since the water-PEO interaction effectively increases the total number of hydrogen bonds and results in a favorable change in energy. A trans-gauche-trans conformation along the O-C-C-O bonds does enable hydrogen bond formation between one water molecule and two nearest or next nearest ether oxygens. A helix structure is not required for the PEO to have favorable interactions with water. Two polymers with similar structure as PEO but are insoluble in water: Poly (methylene oxide) (PMO) and Poly (propylene oxide) (PPO) have been studied to compare with PEO. Their difference in structure from PEO, though slight, reduces the chance of hydrogen bond forming between water and chains so as to decrease the solubility.