Controlling colloidal crystals via morphing energy landscapes and reinforcement learning

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Science Advances  25 Nov 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 48, eabd6716
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abd6716


We report a feedback control method to remove grain boundaries and produce circular shaped colloidal crystals using morphing energy landscapes and reinforcement learning–based policies. We demonstrate this approach in optical microscopy and computer simulation experiments for colloidal particles in ac electric fields. First, we discover how tunable energy landscape shapes and orientations enhance grain boundary motion and crystal morphology relaxation. Next, reinforcement learning is used to develop an optimized control policy to actuate morphing energy landscapes to produce defect-free crystals orders of magnitude faster than natural relaxation times. Morphing energy landscapes mechanistically enable rapid crystal repair via anisotropic stresses to control defect and shape relaxation without melting. This method is scalable for up to at least N = 103 particles with mean process times scaling as N0.5. Further scalability is possible by controlling parallel local energy landscapes (e.g., periodic landscapes) to generate large-scale global defect-free hierarchical structures.

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