Development of the modern theory of polymeric complex coacervation

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Oppositely charged polymers can undergo the process of complex coacervation, which refers to a liquid–liquid phase separation driven by electrostatic attraction. These materials have demonstrated considerable promise as the basis for complex, self-assembled materials. In this review, we provide a broad overview of the theoretical tools used to understand the physical properties of polymeric coacervates. In particular, we discuss historic theories (Voorn–Overbeek, Random Phase Approximation), and then describe recent developments in the field (Field Theoretic, Counterion Release, Molecular Simulation, and Polymer Reference Interaction Site Model methods). We provide context for these methods, and map out the patchwork of theoretical models that are used to describe a diverse array of coacervate systems. We use this review of the literature to clarify a number of important theoretical challenges remaining in our physical understanding of complex coacervation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2-16
Number of pages15
JournalAdvances in Colloid and Interface Science
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017


  • Coacervation
  • Complexation
  • Electrostatics
  • Polyelectrolytes
  • Polymer physics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surfaces and Interfaces
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Colloid and Surface Chemistry


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