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Nature. 2000 Aug 24;406(6798):868-71.

Liquid crystal phase transitions in suspensions of polydisperse plate-like particles

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Van't Hoff Laboratory for Physical and Colloid Chemistry, Debye Institute, Utrecht University, The Netherlands.


Colloidal suspensions that form periodic self-assembling structures on sub-micrometre scales are of potential technological interest; for example, three-dimensional arrangements of spheres in colloidal crystals might serve as photonic materials, intended to manipulate light. Colloidal particles with non-spherical shapes (such as rods and plates) are of particular interest because of their ability to form liquid crystals. Nematic liquid crystals possess orientational order; smectic and columnar liquid crystals additionally exhibit positional order (in one or two dimensions respectively). However, such positional ordering may be inhibited in polydisperse colloidal suspensions. Here we describe a suspension of plate-like colloids that shows isotropic, nematic and columnar phases on increasing the particle concentration. We find that the columnar two-dimensional crystal persists for a polydispersity of up to 25%, with a cross-over to smectic-like ordering at very high particle concentrations. Our results imply that liquid crystalline order in synthetic mesoscopic materials may be easier to achieve than previously thought.


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