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Nat Commun. 2018 Dec 10;9(1):5259. doi: 10.1038/s41467-018-07600-4.

Magic number colloidal clusters as minimum free energy structures.

Author information

1
Institute of Particle Technology, Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg, 91058, Erlangen, Germany.
2
Institute for Multiscale Simulation, Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg, 91058, Erlangen, Germany.
3
Institute of Micro- and Nanostructure Research, Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg, 91058, Erlangen, Germany.
4
Institute for Multiscale Simulation, Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg, 91058, Erlangen, Germany. michael.engel@fau.de.
5
Institute of Particle Technology, Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg, 91058, Erlangen, Germany. nicolas.vogel@fau.de.

Abstract

Clusters in systems as diverse as metal atoms, virus proteins, noble gases, and nucleons have properties that depend sensitively on the number of constituent particles. Certain numbers are termed 'magic' because they grant the system with closed shells and exceptional stability. To this point, magic number clusters have been exclusively found with attractive interactions as present between atoms. Here we show that magic number clusters exist in a confined soft matter system with negligible interactions. Colloidal particles in an emulsion droplet spontaneously organize into a series of clusters with precisely defined shell structures. Crucially, free energy calculations demonstrate that colloidal clusters with magic numbers possess higher thermodynamic stability than those off magic numbers. A complex kinetic pathway is responsible for the efficiency of this system in finding its minimum free energy configuration. Targeting similar magic number states is a strategy towards unique configurations in finite self-organizing systems across the scales.

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