Date of Award

December 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Biomedical and Chemical Engineering


Radhakrishna Sureshkumar


Micelle, Molecular Dynamics, Nanoparticle, Rheology, Self-assembly, Surfactant

Subject Categories



Surfactant micelles are widely used in a number of industrial, commercial and household products and processes. Understanding flow-microstructure coupling in micellar systems can benefit applications ranging from targeted drug delivery and detergency to enhanced oil recovery and hydrofracking. Amongst micellar fluids, wormlike micelles (WLMs) are extremely interesting due to their structural similarity to polymers and their ability to constantly undergo scission and recombination at equilibrium. More recently, much has been generated in studying the effect of adding colloidal particles to WLMs. Colloidal particles can not only add functionality to the fluid but also act as viscosity modifiers. Such solutions can be used to design active nanomaterials for applications in energy harvesting and sensing. While several theories and continuum-level computational models have been developed to study the dynamics and rheology of WLMs, molecular-level explorations of the flow-structure coupling in such solutions is lacking. Further, in the case of mixtures of colloidal particles and WLMs, there are only a handful of attempts to develop theoretical/computational frameworks capable of describing their thermodynamics, self-assembly and phase behavior. The goals of this thesis are to uncover mechanisms by which WLMs interact with colloidal particles and to determine how these interactions affect the macroscopic properties of mixtures of model WLMs and colloidal nanoparticles (NPs) using molecular dynamics (MD) simulations.

Coarse-grained (CG) molecular models and corresponding force-fields are employed to describe the NP, cationic cetyltrimethylammonium chloride (CTAC) surfactant, hydrotropic sodium salicylate (NaSal) salt, solvent and the underlying physico-chemical interactions. Results are first presented for the dynamics of a single self-assembled rodlike micellar aggregate under shear flow. The effect of shear rate on the configurational dynamics, e.g. orientation distribution of the end-to-end vector and tumbling frequency are presented and compared to experimental observations as well as predictions from stochastic simulations and mesoscopic theories. Further, a relationship between micelle length and stretching force is presented and compared with experimental estimates of similar forces in biological systems. Finally, a shear rate-independent energy barrier for micelle scission is identified for relatively large shear rates.

We also show that the addition of NPs to surfactant solutions can result in the formation of NP-surfactant complexes (NPSCs). The effect of NP charge and surface chemistry on the nature of the self-assembly is discussed. Further, such NPSCs can further interact with WLMs, in the presence of NaSal salt, to form electrostatically stabilized micelle-NP junctions via an end cap attachment mechanism. The dynamics, energetics and stability of such junction formation is also described in detail. These junctions can give rise to unique rheological modifications of WLMs such as significant buildup in viscosity and viscoelasticity. Large-scale equilibrium and non-equilibrium MD simulations consisting of several NPs and WLMs are performed to study the flow-microstructure coupling in such systems. The relationship between the zero-shear viscosity, NP volume fraction and salt concentration at a fixed surfactant concentration is presented. Shear thinning behavior is observed for all of the systems studied. Shear thinning is accompanied by flow-alignment and shear-induced isotropic-to-nematic transitions in micellar systems. Further, the evolution of the first normal stress difference, N1, is presented as a function of time and shear rate, and compared with experimental observations for similar systems. The results of this work provides insight into the mechanisms of self-assembly in WLMs and colloidal NPs and demonstrate that rheological properties of WLMs can be uniquely controlled by the addition of NPs.


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