Computer simulations of polymers and gels
Computer simulations have become a vital tool in modern science. The ability to reliably move beyond the capabilities of experiment has allowed great insights into the nature of matter. To enable the study of a wide range of systems and properties a plethora of simulation techniques have been developed and refined, allowing many aspects of complex systems to be demystified. I have used a range of these to study a variety of systems, utilising the latest technology in high performance computing (HPC) and novel, nanoscale models. Monte Carlo (MC) simulation is a commonly used method to study the properties of system using statistical mechanics and I have made use of it in published work  to study the properties of ferrogels in homogeneous magnetic fields using a simple microscopic model. The main phenomena of interest concern the anisotropy and enhancement of the elastic moduli that result from applying uniform magnetic fields before and after the magnetic grains are locked in to the polymer-gel matrix by cross-linking reactions. The positional organization of the magnetic grains is influenced by the application of a magnetic field during gel formation, leading to a pronounced anisotropy in the mechanical response of the ferrogel to an applied magnetic field. In particular, the elastic moduli can be enhanced to different degrees depending on the mutual orientation of the fields during and after ferrogel formation. Previously, no microscopic models have been produced to shed light on this effect and the main purpose of the work presented here is to illuminate the microscopic behaviour. The model represents ferrogels by ensembles of dipolar spheres dispersed in elastic matrices. Experimental trends are shown to be reflected accurately in the simulations of the microscopic model while shedding light on the microscopic mechanism causing these effects. These mechanisms are shown to be related to the behaviour of the dipoles during the production of the gels and caused by the chaining of dipoles in magnetic fields. Finally, simple relationships between the elastic moduli and the magnetization are proposed. If supplemented by the magnetization curve, these relationships yield the dependencies of the elastic moduli on the applied magnetic field, which are often measured directly in experiments. While MC simulations are useful for statistical studies, it can be difficult to use them to gather information about the dynamics of a system. In this case, Molecular Dynamics (MD) is more widely used. MD generally utilises the classical equations of motion to simulate the evolution of a system. For large systems, which are often of interest, and multi-species polymers, the required computer power still poses a challenge and requires the use of HPC techniques. The most recent development in HPC is the use of Graphical Processing Units (GPU) for the fast solution of data parallel problems. In further published work , I have used a bespoke MD code utilising GPU acceleration in order to simulate large systems of block copolymers(BC) in solvent over long timescales. I have studied thin films of BC solutions drying on a flat, smooth surface which requires long timescales due to the ’slow’ nature of the process. BC’s display interesting self-organisation behaviour in bulk solution and near surfaces and have a wide range of potential applications from semi-conductors to self-constructing fabrics. Previous studies have shown some unusual behaviour of PI-PEO diblock co-polymers adsorbing to a freshly cleaved mica surface. These AFM studies showed polymers increasing in height over time and proposed the change of affinity of mica to water and the loss of water layers on the surface as a driver for this change. The MD simulation aimed to illuminate the process involved in this phenomena. The process of evaporation of water layers from a surface was successfully simulated and gave a good indication that the process of solvent evaporation from the surface and the ingress of solvent beneath the adsorbed polymer caused the increase in height seen in experiment.