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ACS Nano. 2013 May 28;7(5):4657-67. doi: 10.1021/nn401487m. Epub 2013 May 7.

Self-assembly of heterogeneously charged particles under confinement.

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Institut für Theoretische Physik and Center for Computational Materials Science, Technische Universität Wien, Wiedner Hauptstrasse 8-10, A-1040 Vienna, Austria.


Self-assembly--the spontaneous organization of microscopic units into well-defined mesoscopic structures--is a fundamental mechanism for a broad variety of nanotechnology applications in material science. The central role played by the anisotropy resulting from asymmetric shapes of the units and/or well-defined bonding sites on the particle surface has been widely investigated, highlighting the importance of properly designing the constituent entities in order to control the resulting mesoscopic structures. Anisotropy driven self-assembly can also result from the multipolar interactions characterizing many naturally occurring systems, such as proteins and viral capsids, as well as experimentally synthesized colloidal particles. Heterogeneously charged particles represent a class of multipolar units that are characterized by a competitive interplay between anisotropic attractive and repulsive interactions, due to the repulsion/attraction between charged-like/oppositely charged regions on the particle surface. In the present work, axially symmetric quadrupolar colloids are considered in a confined planar geometry; the role of both the overall particle charge and the patch extension as well as the effect of the substrate charge are studied in thermodynamic conditions such that the formation of extended structures is favored. A general tendency to form quasi-two-dimensional aggregates where particles align their symmetry axes within the plane is observed; among these planar self-assembled scenarios, a clear distinction between the formation of microcrystalline gels--branched networks consisting of purely crystalline domains--as opposed to disordered aggregates can be observed based on the specific features of the particle-particle interaction. Additionally, the possible competition of interparticle and particle-substrate interactions affects the size and the internal structure of the aggregates and can possibly inhibit the aggregation process.

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