Penetrant shape effects on activated dynamics and selectivity in polymer melts and networks based on self-consistent cooperative hopping theory

Baicheng Mei, Kenneth S Schweizer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We generalize and apply the microscopic self-consistent cooperative hopping theory for activated penetrant dynamics in polymer melts and crosslinked networks to address the role of highly variable non-spherical molecular shape. The focus is on vastly different shaped penetrants that have identical space filling volume in order to isolate how non-spherical shape explicitly modifies dynamics over a wide range of temperature down to the kinetic glass transition temperature. The theory relates intramolecular and intermolecular structure and kinetic constraints, and reveals how different solvation packing of polymer monomers around variable shaped penetrants impact penetrant hopping. A highly shape-dependent penetrant activated relaxation, including alpha time decoupling and trajectory level cooperativity of the hopping process, is predicted in the deeply supercooled regime for relatively larger penetrants which is sensitive to whether the polymer matrix is a melt or heavily crosslinked network. In contrast, for smaller size penetrants or at high/medium temperatures the effect of isochoric penetrant shape is relatively weak. We propose an aspect ratio variable that organizes how penetrant shape influences the activated relaxation times, leading to a (near) collapse or master curve. The relative absolute values of the penetrant relaxation time (inverse hopping rate) in polymer melts versus in crosslinked networks are found to be opposite when compared at a common absolute temperature versus when they are compared at a fixed value of distance from the glass transition based on the variable Tg/T with Tg the glass transition temperature. Quantitative comparison with recent diffusion experiments on chemically complex molecular penetrants of variable shape but fixed volume in crosslinked networks reveals good agreement, and testable new predictions are made. Extension of the theoretical approach to more complex systems of high experimental interest are discussed, including applications to realize selective transport in membrane separation applications.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8744-8763
Number of pages20
JournalSoft Matter
Issue number45
Early online dateNov 8 2023
StatePublished - Nov 8 2023


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