Self-consistent hopping theory of activated relaxation and diffusion of dilute penetrants in dense crosslinked polymer networks

Baicheng Mei, Tsai Wei Lin, Charles E. Sing, Kenneth S. Schweizer

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We generalize a microscopic statistical mechanical theory of the activated dynamics of dilute spherical penetrants in glass-forming liquids to study the influence of crosslinking in polymer networks on the penetrant relaxation time and diffusivity over a wide range of temperature and crosslink fraction (fn). Our calculations are relevant to recent experimental studies of a nm-sized molecule diffusing in poly-(n-butyl methacrylate) networks. The theory predicts the penetrant relaxation time increases exponentially with the glass transition temperature, Tg(fn), which grows roughly linearly with the square root of fn due to the coupling of local hopping to longer-range collective elasticity. Moreover, Tg is also found to be proportional to a geometric confinement parameter defined as the ratio of the penetrant diameter to the mean network mesh size. The decoupling ratio of the penetrant and Kuhn segment alpha times displays a complex non-monotonic dependence on fn and temperature that is well collapsed based on the variable Tg(fn)/T. A model for the penetrant diffusion constant that combines activated relaxation and entropic mesh confinement is proposed, which results in a significantly stronger suppression of mass transport with degree of effective supercooling than predicted for the penetrant alpha time. This behavior corresponds to a new network-based type of “decoupling” of diffusion and relaxation. In contrast to the diffusion of larger nanoparticles in high temperature rubbery networks, our analysis in the supercooled regime suggests that for the penetrants studied the mesh confinement effects are of secondary importance relative to the consequences of crosslink-induced slowing down of activated hopping of glassy physics origin.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number184901
JournalJournal of Chemical Physics
Issue number18
StatePublished - May 14 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Physics and Astronomy
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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