Anisotropic Hydrolysis Susceptibility in Deformed Polydimethylsiloxanes

Chemical reactions involving the polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) backbone can induce significant network rearrangements and ultimately degrade macro-scale mechanical properties of silicone components. Using two levels of quantum chemical theory, we identify a possible electronic driver for chemical susceptibility in strained PDMS chains and explore the complicated interplay between hydrolytic chain scissioning reactions, mechanical deformations of the backbone, water attack vector, and chain mobility. Density functional theory (DFT) calculations reveal that susceptibility to hydrolysis varies significantly with the vector for water attacks on silicon backbone atoms, which matches strain-induced anisotropic changes in the backbone electronic structure. Efficient semiempirical density functional tight binding (DFTB) calculations are shown to reproduce DFT predictions for select reaction pathways and facilitate more exhaustive explorations of configuration space. We show that concerted strains of the backbone must occur over at least few monomer units to significantly increase hydrolysis susceptibility. In addition, we observe that sustaining tension across multiple monomer lengths by constraining molecular degrees of freedom further enhances hydrolysis susceptibility, leading to barrierless scission reactions for less substantial backbone deformations than otherwise. We then compute chain scission probabilities as functions of the backbone degrees of freedom, revealing complicated configurational inter-dependencies that impact the likelihood for hydrolytic degradation. The trends identified in our study suggest simple physical descriptions for the synergistic coupling between local mechanical deformation and environmental moisture in hydrolytic degradation of silicones.