Single polymer growth dynamics

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Abstract

In chain-growth polymerization, a chain grows continually to reach thousands of subunits. However, the real-time dynamics of chain growth remains unknown. Using magnetic tweezers, we visualized real-time polymer growth at the single-polymer level. Focusing on ring-opening metathesis polymerization, we found that the extension of a growing polymer under a pulling force does not increase continuously but exhibits wait-and-jump steps. These steps are attributable to the formation and unraveling of conformational entanglements from newly incorporated monomers, whose key features can be recapitulated with molecular dynamics simulations. The configurations of these entanglements appear to play a key role in determining the polymerization rates and the dispersion among individual polymers.

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