Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Chemical Engineering

First Advisor

Phillip R. Westmoreland

Second Advisor

Dimitrios Maroudas

Third Advisor

Murugappan Muthukumar

Subject Categories

Chemical Engineering | Polymer Science


One of the challenges in understanding polymer flammability is the lack of information about microscopic events that lead to macroscopically observed species, and Reactive Molecular Dynamics is a promising approach to obtain this crucially needed information. The development of a predictive method for condensed-phase reaction kinetics can provide significant insight into polymer ammability, thus helping guide future synthesis of fire-resistant polymers. Through this dissertation, a new reactive forcefield, RMDff, and Reactive Molecular Dynamics program, RxnMD, have been developed and used to simulate such material chemistry. It is necessary to have accurate description of chemical kinetics to describe quantitative chemical kinetics. Typical equilibrium forcefields are inadequate for describing chemical reactions due to the inability to represent bonding transformations. This issue was resolved by developing a new method, RMDff, that allows standard equilibrium forcfields to describe reactive transitions. The chemical reactions are described by employing switching functions that permit smooth transitions between the reactant and product descriptions available from traditional forcefields. Because all of the chemical motions are described, a complete potential energy surface is obtained for the course of the reaction. Descriptions of scission, addition/beta-scission, and abstraction reactions were developed for hydrocarbon species. Reactive potentials were developed using a representative reaction involving small molecules. It is shown that the overall geometric and energetic changes are transferable to larger and substituted molecules. The main source of error found in RMDff resulted from errors within the equilibrium forcefield descriptions. In order to simulate the chemical kinetics, it was necessary to create a molecular dynamics program that could implement the reactions from RMDff. RxnMD was developed as a new C++-based Reactive Molecular Dynamics code to simulate the dynamics using RMDff. Polymer kinetics were predicted for high-density polyethylene and used to test the method and code. Conformational changes and polymer length in the initial polyethylene molecules did not significantly alter the backbone decomposition kinetics. The results also revealed that the backbone carbon-carbon bonds could break with an activation energy approximately 100 kJ/mol below the carbon-carbon bond dissociation energy. This decrease was believed to occur from intramolecular polymer stress, which is relieved via backbone scission. Such stress was also observed to increase the beta-scission reaction rate at high temperatures, apparently because the scission reaction alone is not always sufficient to remove the energy associated with the polymer stress concentrated near the scission location. Finally, the RMD method was also shown to be transferable and applicable in describing the decomposition of novel fire-resistant polymers.