Lower Critical Solution Temperature - Physical Basis

Physical Basis

A key physical factor which distinguishes the LCST from other mixture behavior is that the LCST phase separation is driven by unfavorable entropy of mixing. Since mixing of the two phases is spontaneous below the LCST and not above, the Gibbs free energy change (ΔG) for the mixing of these two phases is negative below the LCST and positive above, and the entropy change ΔS = – (dΔG/dT) is negative for this mixing process. This is in contrast to the more common and intuitive case in which entropies drive mixing due to the increased volume accessible to each component upon mixing.

In general, the unfavorable entropy of mixing responsible for the LCST has one of two physical origins. The first is associating interactions between the two components such as strong polar interactions or hydrogen bonds, which prevent random mixing. For example in the triethylamine-water system, the amine molecules cannot form hydrogen bonds with each other but only with water molecules, so in solution they remain associated to water molecules with loss of entropy. The mixing which occurs below 19 °C is due not to entropy but to the enthalpy of formation of the hydrogen bonds.

The second physical factor which can lead to an LCST is compressibility effects, especially in polymer-solvent systems. For nonpolar systems such as polystyrene in cyclohexane, phase separation has been observed in sealed tubes (at high pressure) at temperatures approaching the liquid-vapor critical point of the solvent. At such temperatures the solvent expands much more rapidly than the polymer, whose segments are covalently linked. Mixing therefore requires contraction of the solvent for compatibility of the polymer, resulting in a loss of entropy.

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