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Phys Rev E Stat Nonlin Soft Matter Phys. 2009 Mar;79(3 Pt 2):036117. Epub 2009 Mar 30.

Cylindrical phase separation in colloidal suspensions.

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  • 1Department of Bioengineering, University of Washington, Box 355061, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA.


When left overnight undisturbed in a covered beaker, suspensions of polystyrene microspheres were found to undergo a distinctive kind of macroscopically visible phase separation. Microspheres migrated radially, leaving a vertically oriented cylinder near the center of the beaker that was devoid of microspheres. Cylinder formation was preceded by formation of a microsphere-free plate at the suspension surface, which may be the precursor of the cylinder. The cylindrical phase separation was found to depend on illumination, which suggests that low-level photon energy from the laboratory environment is sufficient to drive this surprising pattern formation. So long as suspension parameters were set within certain ranges, the cylindrical pattern occurred regularly.

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