Similar to entangled ropes, polymer chains cannot slide through each other. These topological constraints, the so-called entanglements, dominate the viscoelastic behavior of high-molecular-weight polymeric liquids. Tube models of polymer dynamics and rheology are based on the idea that entanglements confine a chain to small fluctuations around a primitive path which follows the coarse-grained chain contour. To establish the microscopic foundation for these highly successful phenomenological models, we have recently introduced a method for identifying the primitive path mesh that characterizes the microscopic topological state of computer-generated conformations of long-chain polymer melts and solutions. Here we give a more detailed account of the algorithm and discuss several key aspects of the analysis that are pertinent for its successful use in analyzing the topology of the polymer configurations. We also present a slight modification of the algorithm that preserves the previously neglected self-entanglements and allows us to distinguish between local self-knots and entanglements between distant sections of the same chain. Our results indicate that the latter make a negligible contribution to the tube and that the contour length between local self-knots, Nlk is significantly larger than the entanglement length Ne. © 2005 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Polym Sci Part B: Polym Phys 43: 917–933, 2005
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