We present results for the steady state shear rheology of non-concatenated, unentangled and marginally entangled ring poly(ethylene oxide) (PEO) melts from detailed, atomistic nonequilibrium molecular dynamics (NEMD) simulations, and compare them to the behavior of the corresponding linear melts. The applied flow field spans a wide range of shear rates, from the linear (Newtonian) to the highly non-linear (described by a power law) regime. For all melts studied, rings are found to exhibit shear thinning but to a lesser degree compared to linear counterparts, mostly due to their reduced deformability and stronger resistance to alignment in the direction of flow. These features are attributed to the more compact structure of ring molecules compared to linear chains; the latter are capable of adopting wider and more open conformations even under shear due to the freedom provided by the free ends. Similar to linear melts, rings also exhibit a first and a second normal stress coefficient; the latter is negative. The ratio of the magnitude of the two coefficients remains practically constant with shear rate and is systematically higher than the corresponding one for linear melts. Emphasis was also given to the statistics of terminal (re-orientational) relaxation times which we computed by analyzing all chains in the simulated systems one by one; it was demonstrated that long time dynamics are strongly heterogeneous both for rings and (especially) linears. Repeating the analysis under flow conditions, and as expected, we found that the applied flow field significantly suppresses dynamic heterogeneity, especially for high shear rates well beyond the Newtonian plateau. Finally, a detailed geometrical analysis revealed that the average population of ring–ring threading events in the longest melt studied here (the PEO-5k ring) remains practically unaffected by the imposed flow rate even at strong shear rates, except for multi-threadings which disappear. To further analyze this peculiar and rather unexpected effect, we computed the corresponding survival times and penetration lengths, and found that the overwhelming majority of threadings under shear are extremely weak constraints, as they are characterized by very small penetration lengths, thus also by short survival times. They are expected therefore to play only a minor (if any) role on chain dynamics.
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