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Linear Viscoelasticity and Swelling of Polyelectrolyte Complex Coacervates

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journal contribution
posted on 17.07.2018, 19:25 by Fawzi G. Hamad, Quan Chen, Ralph H. Colby
Mixing oppositely charged hydrophilic polyelectrolytes is the simplest path to constructing a polyampholyte gel that is useful as a soft tissue scaffold for binding enzymes in their native state. The swelling and viscoelastic properties of such a synthetic polyampholyte gel coacervate, constructed from polyions of different charge density, are reported in water with various amounts of NaCl salt. When constructed, this coacervate is roughly 70% water and 15% of each polyion, nearly charge balanced. If salt is removed from the surrounding supernatant, the gel swells owing to the weak charge imbalance because small amounts of salt screen electrostatic repulsions. If instead more salt is added to this coacervate, the gel behaves as any polyampholyte gel, swelling as salt is added because the excess salt screens the electrostatic attractions and eventually this leads to redissolving the coacervate. The amount of salt needed to redissolve the coacervate increases with polyion molecular weight. To our surprise, we discovered that the small charge imbalance within the coacervate grows with the molecular weight of the more strongly charged polyion.