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Langmuir. 2004 Aug 17;20(17):7045-52.

Structural evolution of colloidal crystals with increasing ionic strength.

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Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois 61801, USA.


We have directly observed the structural evolution of colloidal crystals as a function of increasing ionic strength using confocal scanning laser microscopy. Silica colloids were sedimented onto a glass substrate in deionized water to create large, single domain crystals. The solution ionic strength was then increased by one of three methods of controlled electrolyte addition: (1) direct injection of electrolyte solutions, (2) single step diffusion of electrolyte solutions through a dialysis membrane, and (3) multiple step diffusion of electrolyte solutions of increasing ionic strength through a dialysis membrane. During direct injection of electrolyte solutions, initially large, single domain colloidal crystals were shear melted and then evolved into polycrystalline structures at low ionic strengths and gels at higher ionic strengths. Diffusion of electrolyte solutions though dialysis membranes in a single step produced gradient-driven transport that also melted initial single domain crystals to yield polycrystalline and gel structures similar to the injection approach. Interestingly, the multistep diffusion of several electrolyte solutions through dialysis membranes facilitated retention of large, single domain crystals even as particles came into adhesive contact. This was achieved by reducing the contraction rate of the crystalline lattice to allow sufficient time for diffusion-limited configurational rearrangements to occur within the evolving structure. These mechanically robust, single domain colloidal crystals may find important applications as templates for photonic materials and sensors.


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