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Keywords:

  • charge regulation;
  • coatings;
  • nanoparticles;
  • pH sensible;
  • polyelectrolytes;
  • polymer layers;
  • theory

Abstract

Functionalized nanoparticles with ionizable groups have generated a large variety of structures with important potential applications in technology. The nature of their interactions is crucial to determining their solubility and to exploring assemblies with diverse symmetries. Here, we use a molecular theory to describe the interactions between two nanoparticles coated with short polymer chains that contain ionizable (functional) end-groups immersed in aqueous salt solution. It is shown here that the fraction of ionized functional groups in the system depends on factors such as the ionic strength and pH of solution, grafting density of polymer chains, the chain length, as well as the separation distance between the nanoparticles. The interactions between two neighboring nanoparticles influence the charge regulation of the end-groups, which consequently induces an asymmetric distribution of these charged end-groups on the nanoparticles, and thus confers a preferred directionality in nanoparticle–nanoparticle interactions. We show that the charge regulating system is less repulsive than an equivalent system with a fixed charge distribution. This is due to a decrease in the charge density of the weak acid end-groups, to avoid a local increase in counterion confinement (condensation) in the region between neighboring nanoparticles, when their separation decreases. The anisotropic degree of ionization found in our results can be used to design aggregates of nanoparticles with reduced symmetries. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Polym Sci Part B: Polym Phys, 2012