Most theories of the binding of molecules to surfaces or for the association between molecules treat the binding species as structureless entities and neglect their rigidity and the changes in their stiffness induced by the binding process. The binding species are also taken to be “ideal,” meaning that the existence of van der Waals interactions and changes in these interactions upon molecular binding are also neglected. An understanding of the thermodynamics of these multifunctional molecular binding processes has recently come into focus in the context of the molecular binding of complex molecules, such as dendrimers and DNA grafted nanoparticles, to surfaces where the degree of binding cooperativity and selectivity, as well as the location of the binding transition, are found to be sensitive to the number of binding units constrained to a larger scale polymeric scaffold. We address the fundamental problem of molecular binding by extending classical Langmuir theory to describe the particular example of the reversible binding of semiflexible polymer chains to a solid substrate under melt conditions. The polymer chains are assumed to have a variable number N of binding units (segments) and to exhibit variable bending energies and van der Waals interactions in the bulk and on the surface, in addition to strong directional interactions with the surface. The resulting generalized Langmuir theory is applied to the examination of the influence of the chain connectivity of ideal polymers on the surface coverage Θ, transition binding temperature T1/2 at which Θ = 1/2, and on the derivative |dΘ/dT|T=T1/2 and the constant volume specific heat of binding, Cvbind, measures of the cooperativity and “sharpness” of the binding transition, respectively. Paper II is devoted to the impact of the van der Waals attractive interactions and chain stiffness on the reversible binding of nonideal polymer chains to a solid surface, including the enthalpy-entropy compensation phenomenon observed experimentally in many molecular and particle binding processes.

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