Directed self-assembly into low-density colloidal liquid crystal phases

Yongxiang Gao, Flavio Romano, Roel PA Dullens, Jonathan K Doye, and Dirk GAL Aarts

Phys. Rev. Materials 2018 2 015601

Alignment of anisometric particles into liquid crystals (LCs) often results from an entropic competition between their rotational and translational degrees of freedom at dense packings. Here we show that by selectively functionalizing the heads of colloidal rods with magnetic nanoparticles this tendency can be broken to direct the particles into novel, low-density LC phases. Under an external magnetic field, the magnetic heads line up in columns whereas the nonmagnetic tails point out randomly in a plane perpendicular to the columns, forming bottle-brush-like objects; laterally, the bottle brushes are entropically stabilized against coalescence. Experiments and simulations show that upon increasing the particle density the system goes from a dilute gas to a dense two-dimensional liquid of bottle brushes with a density well below the zero-field nematic phase. Our findings offer a strategy for self-assembly into three-dimensional open phases that may find applications in switchable photonics, filtration, and light-weight materials.