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Distinct Cation–Anion Interactions in the UCST and LCST Behavior of Polyelectrolyte Complex Aqueous Solutions

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journal contribution
posted on 17.06.2020, 13:06 by Zhangxin Ye, Shengtong Sun, Peiyi Wu
Polyelectrolyte complexes (PECs) are recently observed to possess diversified thermoresponsive phase transition behaviors in aqueous solutions. Herein, by adjusting the initial polymer concentrations (Cpi) of poly­(styrenesulfonate) (PSS)/poly­(diallyldimethylammonium) (PDADMA) PEC in the same saline solution, in addition to previously reported lower critical solution temperature (LCST), we experimentally observed the upper critical solution temperature (UCST)-type phase transition behavior of PSS/PDADMA PECs at a lower polymer concentration. As elucidated by temperature-dependent Raman spectroscopy and two-dimensional correlation analysis, at temperatures lower than UCST, more hydrophobic polyelectrolyte chains lead to a high proportion of contact ion pairs (CIPs), contributing to UCST-type solid–liquid phase transition; however, at higher concentrations of PEC, the less hydrophobic polyelectrolyte chains correspond to a higher proportion of solvent-separated ion pairs (SIPs), which enables the occurrence of LCST-type liquid–liquid phase transition. With the spectroscopic indicator of CIPs/SIPs peak ratio and monitoring the hydration state of polymer chains, the complex interplays of PSS/PDADMA PECs are hereby interpreted at the molecular level, which lays the mechanistic foundation for designing other thermoresponsive PEC assemblies.

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