Polymer Engineering Faculty Research

General hydrophobic interaction potential for surfactant/lipid bilayers from direct force measurements between light-modulated bilayers

Younjin Min, The University of Akron


We establish and quantify correlations among the molecular structures, interaction forces, and physical processes associated with light-responsive self-assembled surfactant monolayers or bilayers at interfaces. Using the surface forces apparatus (SFA), the interaction forces between adsorbed monolayers and bilayers of an azobenzene-functionalized surfactant can be drastically and controllably altered by light-induced conversion of trans and cis molecular conformations. These reversible conformation changes affect significantly the shape of the molecules, especially in the hydrophobic region, which induces dramatic transformations of molecular packing in self-assembled structures, causing corresponding modulation of electrostatic double layer, steric hydration, and hydrophobic interactions. For bilayers, the isomerization from trans to cis exposes more hydrophobic groups, making the cis bilayers more hydrophobic, which lowers the activation energy barrier for (hemi)fusion. A quantitative and general model is derived for the interaction potential of charged bilayers that includes the electrostatic double-layer force of the Derjaguin–Landau–Verwey–Overbeek theory, attractive hydrophobic interactions, and repulsive steric-hydration forces. The model quantitatively accounts for the elastic strains, deformations, long-range forces, energy maxima, adhesion minima, as well as the instability (when it exists) as two bilayers breakthrough and (hemi)fuse. These results have several important implications, including quantitative and qualitative understanding of the hydrophobic interaction, which is furthermore shown to be a nonadditive interaction.