Research ArticleCOLLOIDS

Assembling oppositely charged lock and key responsive colloids: A mesoscale analog of adaptive chemistry

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Science Advances  15 Sep 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 9, e1700321
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700321


We have seen a considerable effort in colloid sciences to copy Nature’s successful strategies to fabricate complex functional structures through self-assembly. This includes attempts to design colloidal building blocks and their intermolecular interactions, such as creating the colloidal analogs of directional molecular interactions, molecular recognition, host-guest systems, and specific binding. We show that we can use oppositely charged thermoresponsive particles with complementary shapes, such as spherical and bowl-shaped particles, to implement an externally controllable lock-and-key self-assembly mechanism. The use of tunable electrostatic interactions combined with the temperature-dependent size and shape and van der Waals interactions of these building blocks provides an exquisite control over the selectivity and specificity of the interactions and self-assembly process. The dynamic nature of the mechanism allows for reversibly cycling through various structures that range from weakly structured dense liquids to well-defined molecule-shaped clusters with different configurations through variations in temperature and ionic strength. We link this complex and dynamic self-assembly behavior to the relevant molecular interactions, such as screened Coulomb and van der Waals forces and the geometrical complementarity of the two building blocks, and discuss our findings in the context of the concepts of adaptive chemistry recently introduced to molecular systems.

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