Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Sharon M. Loverde

Committee Members

Qiao-Sheng Hu

Joel Koplik

Graziano Vernizzi

Shuiqin Zhou

Subject Categories

Other Physics


hydrophobic polymer, phospholipid membrane, molecular dynamics


Polymers and lipid membranes are both essential soft materials. The structure and hydrophobicity/hydrophilicity of polymers, as well as the solvent they are embedded in, ultimately determines their size and shape. Understating the variation of shape of the polymer as well as its interactions with model biological membranes can assist in understanding the biocompatibility of the polymer itself. Computer simulations, in particular molecular dynamics, can aid in characterization of the interaction of polymers with solvent, as well as polymers with model membranes. In this thesis, molecular dynamics serve to describe polymer interactions with a solvent (water) and with a lipid membrane.

To begin with, we characterize the hydrophobic collapse of single polystyrene chains in water using molecular dynamics simulations. Specifically, we calculate the potential of mean force for the collapse of a single polystyrene chain in water using metadynamics, comparing the results between all atomistic with coarse-grained molecular simulation. We next explore the scaling behavior of the collapsed globular shape at the minimum energy configuration, characterized by the radius of gyration, as a function of chain length. The exponent is close to one third, consistent with that predicted for a polymer chain in bad solvent. We also explore the scaling behavior of the Solvent Accessible Surface Area (SASA) as a function of chain length, finding a similar exponent for both all-atomistic and coarse-grained simulations. Furthermore, calculation of the local water density as a function of chain length near the minimum energy configuration suggests that intermediate chain lengths are more likely to form dewetted states, as compared to shorter or longer chain lengths.

Next, in order to investigate the molecular interactions between single hydrophobic polymer chains and lipids in biological membranes and at lipid membrane/solvent interface, we perform a series of molecular dynamics simulations of small membranes using all atomistic and coarse-grained methods. The molecular interaction between common polymer chains used in biomedical applications and the cell membrane is unknown. This interaction may affect the biocompatibility of the polymer chains. Molecular dynamics simulations offer an emerging tool to characterize the interaction between common degradable polymer chains used in biomedical applications, such as polycaprolactone, and model cell membranes. We systematically characterize with long-time all-atomistic molecular dynamics simulations the interaction between single polycaprolactone chains of varying chain lengths with a model phospholipid membrane. We find that the length of polymer chain greatly affects the nature of interaction with the membrane, as well as the membrane properties. Furthermore, we next utilize advanced sampling techniques in molecular dynamics to characterize the two-dimensional free energy surface for the interaction of varying polymer chain lengths (short, intermediate, and long) with model cell membranes. We find that the free energy minimum shifts from the membrane-water interface to the hydrophobic core of the phospholipid membrane as a function of chain length. These results can be used to design polymer chain lengths and chemistries to optimize their interaction with cell membranes at the molecular level.

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