Research ArticlePHYSICS

Shaping nanoparticle fingerprints at the interface of cholesteric droplets

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Science Advances  12 Oct 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 10, eaat8597
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aat8597


The ordering of nanoparticles into predetermined configurations is of importance to the design of advanced technologies. Here, we balance the interfacial energy of nanoparticles against the elastic energy of cholesteric liquid crystals to dynamically shape nanoparticle assemblies at a fluid interface. By adjusting the concentration of surfactant that plays the dual role of tuning the degree of nanoparticle hydrophobicity and altering the molecular anchoring of liquid crystals, we pattern nanoparticles at the interface of cholesteric liquid crystal emulsions. In this system, interfacial assembly is tempered by elastic patterns that arise from the geometric frustration of confined cholesterics. Patterns are tunable by varying both surfactant and chiral dopant concentrations. Adjusting the particle hydrophobicity more finely by regulating the surfactant concentration and solution pH further modifies the rigidity of assemblies, giving rise to surprising assembly dynamics dictated by the underlying elasticity of the cholesteric. Because particle assembly occurs at the interface with the desired structures exposed to the surrounding water solution, we demonstrate that particles can be readily cross-linked and manipulated, forming structures that retain their shape under external perturbations. This study serves as a foundation for better understanding inter-nanoparticle interactions at interfaces by tempering their assembly with elasticity and for creating materials with chemical heterogeneity and linear, periodic structures, essential for optical and energy applications.

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