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  Abbott Lab - Microparticles and Nanoparticles

Laboratory for Molecular Engineering
Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering

Directed Assembly of Microparticles and Nanoparticles at Liquid Crystalline Interfaces

We report a study of the organization of solid microparticles at oil−water interfaces, where the oil is a thermotropic liquid crystal (LC). The study was motivated by the proposition that microparticle organization and LC ordering would be coupled at these interfaces. Surfactant-functionalized polystyrene microparticles were spread at air−water interfaces at prescribed densities and then raised into contact with supported films of nematic 4-pentyl-4′-cyanobiphenyl (5CB). Whereas this method of sample preparation led to quantitative transfer of microparticles from the air−water interface to an isotropic oil−water interface, forces mediated by the nematic order of 5CB were observed to rapidly displace microparticles laterally across the interface of the water upon contact with nematic 5CB, thus leading to a 65% decrease in the density of microparticles at the LC−water interface. These lateral forces were determined to be caused by microparticle-induced deformation of the LC, the energy of which was estimated to be ˜ 104 kT. We also observed microparticles transferred to the LC−water interface to assemble into chainlike structures that were not seen when using isotropic oils, indicating the presence of LC-mediated interparticle interactions at this interface. Optical textures of the LC in the vicinity of the microparticles were consistent with formation of topological defects with dipolar symmetry capable of promoting the chaining of the microparticles. Polarized lightThe presence of microparticles at the interface also impacted the ordering of the LCs, including a transition from parallel to perpendicular ordering of the LC with increasing microparticle density. These observations, when combined, demonstrate that LC-mediated interactions can direct the assembly of solid microparticles at LC−water interfaces and that the ordering of the LC is also strongly coupled to the presence of microparticles.

Polarized light (panels A,C,E,G,I and K, all with crossed polars) and bright-field (panels B,D,F,H,J and L) micrographs of the time-dependent organization of DODAB-coated PS microparticles following transfer of the microparticles from an air−water interface to a LC−water interface. Times are indicated in units of seconds and
t = 0 corresponds to the instant of contact of the microparticle-decorated surface of water with the LC. Scale bar corresponds to 300 μm.