A systematic capillary electrophoresis study uncovered how polyelectrolyte effective charge density varies with backbone charge spacing and solvent dielectric constant. The study primarily focused on aliphatic ionenes, a special class of polyelectrolytes, which possess regularly spaced quaternary ammonium groups in the backbone. Complete ionization of functional units and good solvency in water or mixtures of water with lower dielectric constant solvents (methanol, acetonitrile) enabled continuous measurements of ionene effective charge density through the onset of counterion condensation. Ionenes with both uniform and alternating charge spacing were examined. As expected, effective charge density rose linearly with fixed charge density to a critical value, above which effective charge density remained constant. Deviating from expectation, the onset of condensation did not occur at a critical fixed charge density. Instead, condensation initiated at a constant critical Bjerrum length. The same onset condition was found for quaternized poly(vinyl pyridine)s. These experimental results suggest a new form of condensation, one driven by ion-pairing of polyelectrolyte with counterions. In support of this hypothesis, the onset of condensation appeared to correlate with counterion size. © 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Polym Sci Part B: Polym Phys 42: 3616–3627, 2004
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