Polymer Engineering Faculty Research


Thermodynamically Consistent Force Fields and Molecular Models for the Assembly of Inorganic, Organic, and Biological Hybrid Nanostructures

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The complexity of the molecular recognition and assembly of biotic–abiotic interfaces on a scale of 1 to 1000 nm can be understood more effectively using simulation tools along with laboratory instrumentation. We discuss the current capabilities and limitations of atomistic force fields and explain a strategy to obtain dependable parameters for inorganic compounds that has been developed and tested over the past decade. Parameter developments include several silicates, aluminates, metals, oxides, sulfates, and apatites that are summarized in what we call the INTERFACE force field. The INTERFACE force field operates as an extension of common harmonic force fields (PCFF, COMPASS, CHARMM, AMBER, GROMACS, and OPLS-AA) by employing the same functional form and combination rules to enable simulations of inorganic–organic and inorganic–biomolecular interfaces. The parametrization builds on an in-depth understanding of physical–chemical properties on the atomic scale to assign each parameter, especially atomic charges and van der Waals constants, as well as on the validation of macroscale physical–chemical properties for each compound in comparison to measurements. The approach eliminates large discrepancies between computed and measured bulk and surface properties of up to 2 orders of magnitude using other parametrization protocols and increases the transferability of the parameters by introducing thermodynamic consistency. As a result, a wide range of properties can be computed in quantitative agreement with experiment, including densities, surface energies, solid–water interface tensions, anisotropies of interfacial energies of different crystal facets, adsorption energies of biomolecules, and thermal and mechanical properties. Applications include insight into the assembly of inorganic–organic multiphase materials, the recognition of inorganic facets by biomolecules, growth and shape preferences of nanocrystals and nanoparticles, as well as thermal transitions and nanomechanics. Limitations and opportunities for further development are also described.

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