Linear viscoelasticity of polyelectrolyte complex coacervates

Spruijt, E.; Cohen Stuart, M.A.; Gucht, J. van der


Two flexible, oppositely charged polymers can form liquid-like complex coacervate phases with rich but poorly understood viscoelastic properties. They serve as an experimental model system for many biological and man-made materials made from oppositely charged macromolecules. We use rheology to systematically study the viscoelastic properties as a function of salt concentration, chain length, chain length matching, and mixing stoichiometry of model complex coacervates of poly(N,N-dimethylaminoethyl methacrylate), PDMAEMA, and poly(acrylic acid), PAA. The dynamics of making and breaking ionic bonds between the oppositely charged chains underlie all linear viscoelastic properties of the complex coacervates. We treat (clusters of) ionic bonds as sticky points and find that there is a remarkable resemblance between the relaxation spectra of these complex coacervates and the classical sticky Rouse model for single polymer systems. Salt affects all relaxation processes in the same way, giving rise to a widely applicable time–salt superposition principle. The viscoelastic properties of the complexes are very different from those of the individual components. In the complexes with a chain length mismatch, the effect of the mismatch on the viscoelastic properties is not trivial: changing the length of the polycation affects the relaxation behavior differently from changing the length of the polyanion