Selected Cover Story, article: «Local and Global Order in Dense Packings of Semi-Flexible Polymers of Hard Spheres». Polymers, Volume 15, Issue 3 (February-1 2023)

Autores: Daniel Martínez-Fernández, Miguel Herranz, Katerina Foteinopoulou, Nikos Ch. Karayiannis.
Organismo: Institute for Optoelectronic Systems and Microtechnology (ISOM) and Escuela Técnica Superior de Ingenieros Industriales (ETSII), Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM), José Gutiérrez Abascal 2, 28006 Madrid, Spain
Citation: Polymers 202315(3), 551;


The local and global order in dense packings of linear, semi-flexible polymers of tangent hard spheres are studied by employing extensive Monte Carlo simulations at increasing volume fractions. The chain stiffness is controlled by a tunable harmonic potential for the bending angle, whose intensity dictates the rigidity of the polymer backbone as a function of the bending constant and equilibrium angle. The studied angles range between acute and obtuse ones, reaching the limit of rod-like polymers. We analyze how the packing density and chain stiffness affect the chains’ ability to self-organize at the local and global levels. The former corresponds to crystallinity, as quantified by the Characteristic Crystallographic Element (CCE) norm descriptor, while the latter is computed through the scalar orientational order parameter. In all cases, we identify the critical volume fraction for the phase transition and gauge the established crystal morphologies, developing a complete phase diagram as a function of packing density and equilibrium bending angle. A plethora of structures are obtained, ranging between random hexagonal closed packed morphologies of mixed character and almost perfect face centered cubic (FCC) and hexagonal close-packed (HCP) crystals at the level of monomers, and nematic mesophases, with prolate and oblate mesogens at the level of chains. For rod-like chains, a delay is observed between the establishment of the long-range nematic order and crystallization as a function of the packing density, while for right-angle chains, both transitions are synchronized. A comparison is also provided against the analogous packings of monomeric and fully flexible chains of hard spheres.