Stretching of immersed polyelectrolyte brushes in shear flow

Yijun Qiao, Qiming He, Hsin Hsiang Huang, Dean Mastropietro, Zhang Jiang, Hua Zhou, Yuhong Liu, Matthew V. Tirrell, Wei Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The way that polymer brushes respond to shear flow has important implications in various applications, including antifouling, corrosion protection, and stimuli-responsive materials. However, there is still much to learn about the behaviours and mechanisms that govern these responses. To address this gap in knowledge, our study uses in situ X-ray reflectivity to investigate how poly(styrene sulfonate) (PSS) brushes stretch and change in different environments, such as isopropanol (a poor solvent), water (a good solvent), and aqueous solutions containing various cations (Cs+, Ba2+, La3+, and Y3+). We have designed a custom apparatus that exposes the PSS brushes to both tangential shear forces from the primary flow and upward drag forces from a secondary flow. Our experimental findings clearly show that shear forces have a significant impact on how the chains in PSS brushes are arranged. At low shear rates, the tangential shear force causes the chains to tilt, leading to brush contraction. In contrast, higher shear rates generate an upward shear force that stretches and expands the chains. By analysing electron density profiles obtained from X-ray reflectivity, we gain valuable insights into how the PSS brushes respond structurally, especially the role of the diffuse layer in this dynamic behaviour. Our results highlight the importance of the initial chain configuration, which is influenced by the solvent and cations present, in shaping how polymer brushes respond to shear flow. The strength of the salt bridge network also plays a crucial role in determining how easily the brushes can stretch, with stronger networks offering more resistance to stretching. Ultimately, our study aims to enhance our understanding of polymer physics at interfaces, with a particular focus on practical applications involving polymer brushes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19282-19291
Number of pages10
Issue number47
StatePublished - Nov 13 2023
Externally publishedYes

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© 2023 The Royal Society of Chemistry

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  • Journal Article


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