We have used both conventional small-angle neutron scattering and contrast variation techniques to characterize the polymer conformations of two non-ionic water soluble polymers: poly(ethylene oxide) and poly(N-vinyl-2-pyrollidone). The second of these is able to kinetically suppress hydrate crystallization, and an objective of these studies is to obtain a understanding of this inhibition mechanism. The dilute-solution polymer conformation in a hydrate-forming tetrahydrofuran/water fluid shows only a small difference between the polymers. The single- chain characteristics are unperturbed, but the hydrate inhibitor polymer seems to show an enhanced tendency to form aggregates in solution. This is evidenced by excess low-q scattering following a q-2.5 power law. Much more evident is the strong perturbation in the conformation of the inhibitor polymer upon crystallization of the hydrate. We utilize contrast variation methods to resolve the scattering of the polymer on the hydrate surface. Unlike expectations from polymer scaling laws, the resulting layer is considerably thicker (550) than the single- chain radius of gyration, 80. Also surprising, only 2 percent of the available crystal surface is covered. Within the covered areas, the polymer concentration is significantly enhanced over that in the surrounding solution, about 2.5c* (where c* is the overlap concentration). This suggests a coverage of clumps of polymer widely separated from one another. Consideration of the concentration and implied spacing of such clumps on the hydrate surface suggests that they can effectively inhibit crystal growth.
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King, H.E., Hutter, J.L., Lin, M.Y. et al. Anomalous Surface Conformation for Polymeric Gas-Hydrate-Crystal Inhibitors. MRS Online Proceedings Library 651, 841 (2000). https://doi.org/10.1557/PROC-651-T8.4.1