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Communication: Intraparticle segregation of structurally homogeneous polyelectrolyte microgels caused by long-range Coulomb repulsion
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Structurally homogeneous polyelectrolyte
microgels in dilute aqueous solutions are shown to exhibit inhomogeneous density profile including intraparticle “phase” coexistence of hollow core and dense “skin.” This effect is a consequence of long-range Coulomb repulsion of charged groups which appear because of entropy-driven escape of monovalent counterions into the outer solvent. Excess of the charged groups at the periphery of the microgel particle reduces electrostatic energy and overall free energy of the system despite a penalty in the elastic
free energy of strongly stretched subchains in the hole. This finding can serve as additional tool controlling encapsulation, transport, and release of high- and low-molecular-weight species in processes where the microgels are used as delivery systems.
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