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ACS Nano. 2012 Jan 24;6(1):609-14. doi: 10.1021/nn204012y. Epub 2011 Nov 28.

Crystalline assemblies and densest packings of a family of truncated tetrahedra and the role of directional entropic forces.

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Applied Physics Program, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, USA.


Polyhedra and their arrangements have intrigued humankind since the ancient Greeks and are today important motifs in condensed matter, with application to many classes of liquids and solids. Yet, little is known about the thermodynamically stable phases of polyhedrally shaped building blocks, such as faceted nanoparticles and colloids. Although hard particles are known to organize due to entropy alone, and some unusual phases are reported in the literature, the role of entropic forces in connection with polyhedral shape is not well understood. Here, we study thermodynamic self-assembly of a family of truncated tetrahedra and report several atomic crystal isostructures, including diamond, β-tin, and high-pressure lithium, as the polyhedron shape varies from tetrahedral to octahedral. We compare our findings with the densest packings of the truncated tetrahedron family obtained by numerical compression and report a new space-filling polyhedron, which has been overlooked in previous searches. Interestingly, the self-assembled structures differ from the densest packings. We show that the self-assembled crystal structures can be understood as a tendency for polyhedra to maximize face-to-face alignment, which can be generalized as directional entropic forces.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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