Molecular theory of the electrostatic collapse of dipolar polymer gels
We develop a new quantitative molecular theory of liquid-phase dipolar polymer gels. We model monomer units of the polymer network as a couple of charged sites separated by a fluctuating distance. For the first time, within the random phase approximation, we have obtained an analytical expression for the electrostatic free energy of the dipolar gel. Depending on the coupling parameter of dipole–dipole interactions and the ratio of the dipole length to the subchain Kuhn length, we describe the gel collapse induced by electrostatic interactions in the good solvent regime as a first-order phase transition. This transition can be realized at reasonable physical parameters of the system (temperature, solvent dielectric constant, and dipole moment of monomer units). The obtained results could be potentially used in modern applications of stimuliresponsive polymer gels and microgels, such as drug delivery,
nanoreactors, molecular uptake, coatings, superabsorbents, etc.