The term “colloidal matter” characterizes a class of materials consisting of large assemblies of colloidal particles. As the individual particles are substantially larger than the atomic scale but still much smaller than a macroscopic size, these materials have unusual thermodynamic, rheological and optical properties bridging the gap between the molecular and macroscopic world. This makes colloidal matter interesting, both from the fundamental and applied point of view. In addition, the size of the building blocks makes these materials amenable to relatively simple chemical modifications, allows for quantitative 3D analysis with confocal microscopy and makes it possible to manipulate the structures with external fields. Computer simulations on the same systems that are studied experimentally in real-space provide a powerful combination to increase our understanding of these (soft) condensed matter model systems. Our fundamental work focuses on using colloids as a way to extend our knowledge of condensed matter problems like, freezing/melting, the glass transition. Our interest in more applied use of soft condensed matter focuses on photonics.
Colloidal Model Systems
Using chemical synthesis techniques a variety of colloidal core-shell particles can be prepared. For fluorescence confocal microscopy the core consists of a fluorescently labeled material, while the shell consists of a non-fluorescent material like pure silica. In this case the core enables the confocal detection while the larger shell makes it possible to detect even touching spheres and to chemically modify the surface. Most of the syntheses and characterization are done at the Van ‘t Hoff Laboratory of the Debye Institute (Utrecht University).
Different core-shell morphologies give the particles different specific properties suited for various applications: optical tweezers, photonic crystals, ER fluids
In confocal microscopy a pinhole is used in the focal plane both at illumination and at detection. In this way out of focus emitted light is effectively rejected by the detection pinhole and an increased resolution is obtained (top left). By scanning through the focal plane an image of a slice inside the sample can be taken (top right). From several slices taken at different heights a 3D-image of the sample can be reconstructed (bottom left) and particle coordinates can be obtained (right). A 3D reconstruction of a colloidal liquid-crystal interface is shown (bottom right).
Computer Simulations (Marjolein Dijkstra)
Condensation of Charged Spheres and Swelling of Clay Platelets (01PR1983: Antti-Pekka Hynninen)
The explanation of the experimentally observed phenomena of (i) attraction between like-charged colloidal spheres and (ii) the sol-gel transition in clay suspensions are two of the most profound problems in colloid science. We propose to study both phenomena by simulation using the classical analogue of the Car-Parinello method. In this recently introduced method the mesoscopic (colloidal) particles are treated explicitly by Molecular Dynamics simulation, whereas the microions are treated on the level of their density profiles that follow from minimising the free energy functional. We plan to extend this novel method to systems coupled to a salt-reservoir, and to combine it with standard techniques for determining phase equilibria, such as the Gibbs Ensemble method and thermodynamic integration. This combination of extensions allows us to determine the phase diagram and the structure of suspensions of colloidal spheres and clay particles, not only in the well-understood regime of high salt concentrations, but also in the low-salt regime, where the unexplained phenomena (i) and (ii) were observed.
In this project we plan to study suspensions of rodlike particles in contact with a planar hard wall in which rodlike particles are embedded parallel to the wall. In order to investigate the wetting behaviour, we recently developed a new Monte-Carlo method for simulating fluids in contact with a single wall. In this method, we simulate the suspension in contact with a single wall, while a flat density profile is imposed far from this wall using a penalty function that suppresses large density fluctuations from a self-consistently determined averaged bulk density. In this way, we can avoid simulations with two walls, which can induce capillary condensation/nematization. Using this technique, we were indeed able to follow the logarithmic growth of a thick nematic film at the wall-isotropic interface (see figure on the cover page). We propose to investigate the interfacial behaviour of hard-rod fluids in contact with corrugated walls by extending this technique to structured walls. We hope that our simulations can give some insight in the origin of the alignment effects of LC molecules on corrugated/rubbed surfaces.
The focus of this proposal is on two different systems where the bare interactions are either hard o r ideal: (i) a simple model for a mixture of colloids and ideal polymer and (ii) a mixture of thin a nd thick rod-like particles. Our group has a proven track record in the determination of the bulk phase behaviour of both systems with theory and simulations, which gives us an excellent position to study the wetting behaviour. For both systems, we plan to investigate how the topology of the phase diagram influences the location of wetting transitions.
Colloidal epitaxy provides a means to direct the growth of colloidal crystals. Under the influence of gravity colloids settle at the bottom of the container, forming close packed crystalline domains. By using a corrugated wall where the pattern of holes equals a well chosen crystal plane, a colloidal crystal can be grown epitaxially. In this way an almost perfect face centered cubic crystal of hard-sphere like silica particles was grown. At the moment we are trying to grow a hexagonal close packed crystal, which, for hard spheres, has a slightly higher free energy.
Manipulation of colloidal crystal growth has applications for the production of photonic crystals. Understanding the dynamics of epitaxial crystal growth is on the other hand an interesting and fundamental research question. Even the role of gravity in the epitaxial growth process, which is not yet understood, can be examined by using particles that can be density matched with their suspending liquid.
When a dispersion of uncharged colloidal spheres is placed in a (uniform) electric field the dielectric constant difference between particles and solvent creates dipolar interaction potentials between the spheres. If the fields are so high that the dipolar interactions between the spheres are several times kT non-equilibrium string-like structures are formed spanning the container and the dispersion starts behaving like a solid. This ability to change viscosity over several orders of magnitude in milliseconds is useful for applications like shock absorbers or a variable transmission. The proposed lowest energy structure for monodisperse spheres at high fields is a body centered tetragonal crystal (BCT). At relatively low fields (~0.5 V/mm), where interaction forces between the spheres were only several times kT, we observed such BCT crystals (figure on the right). Furthermore, intriguing metastable sheet-like structures, not yet predicted by theory, were seen as precursor to the BCT crystals (left three Figures). At higher concentrations, where the equilibrium phase without field is an FCC colloidal crystal, an interesting martensitic FCC-BCT transition was found.
Particles 1 micron diameter, fluorescent core 400 nm.Confocal micrographs, field strength: ~0.5 V/mm.
|modified: 25-04-2018, 11.29|