Nematic Phase transitions in Mixtures of Thin and Thick Colloidal Rods

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Original Entry by Holly McIlwee, AP225 Fall 09


Nematic Phase transitions in Mixtures of Thin and Thick Colloidal Rods. K. R. Purdy, S. Varga, A. Galindo, G. Jackson, and S. Fraden. Phys. Rev. Lett. 94, 057801 (2005).


Fraden et al. report experimental measurements of the phase behavior of mixtures of thin (charged semiflexible fd virus) and thick (fd-PEG, fd virus covalently coated with polyethylene glycol) rods with diameter ratio varying from 3.7 to 1.1. The phase diagrams of the rod mixtures reveal isotropic-nematic, isotropic-nematic- nematic, and nematic-nematic coexisting phases with increasing concentration. In stark contrast to predictions from earlier theoretical work, a nematic-nematic coexistence region bound by a lower critical point is observed. Moreover, it is shown that a rescaled Onsager-type theory for binary hard-rod mixtures qualitatively describes the observed phase behavior.


Isotropic, Nematic, Phase Diagram

Soft Matter

Fraden et al. and Teramoto et al. have studied the entropy driven phase transition of monodisperse suspensions of purely repulsive rods from an isotropic to an aligned nematic phase experimentally. [1-2] The phase transition has also been studied theoretically and computationally. [3-5] For Fraden et al. the motivation to study hard particle binary mixtures of multiple aspect ratios stems from the desire to ultimately understand the impact of polydispersity on the phase separation of concentrated suspensions of rodlike macromolecules.

F-actin, microtubules, and DNA are all examples of biological rodlike particles in which length and diameter polydispersity are common. Theoretical studies of binary hard-rod mixtures predict that in addition to isotropicnematic (I-N) coexistence, isotropic-nematic-nematic (I-N-N), isotropic-isotropic (I-I), and nematic-nematic (N-N) coexistence are possible when the length or diameter ratios of the particles are large enough [6 –12].

Fraden et al. have presented here phase behavior measurements of binary mixtures of rods of varying diameter and equal length up to high nematic concentrations. Phase behavior of varying diameter and length have been studied. [7-9,14] Previously they were unable to look at phase diagrams in the nemaic region and therefore only now have they found a lower critical point in the N-N coexisitence. The results were then compared to predictions of a scaled Onsager theory. [12] Onsager's theory predicts isotropic to nematic phase transitions in suspensions of hard rods. Here Onsager's theory has been extended to binary mixtures. But Onsager's second virial expansion is not accurate for high concentrations and therefore a Parsons-Lee (PL) free energy has been adopted. Here higher virial coefficients are approximated by interpolating between the Carnahan-Starling free energy for hard spheres and the Onsager free energy for long hard rods. As mentioned, in previous studies where length was varied, measurements could only be made near the I-N region. It is thought that this may be the result of a few different properties: polydispersity in particle size, high solution viscosity, and/or weak attractions. [2,15,17]

Mixtures of charged fd virus (representing thin rods) and fd virus coated in polyethylene glycol (representing the thick rod) were studied experimentally. The observed phase separations, viewed under crossed polarizers, are depicted in Fig. 1. These include an isotropic phase (I) coexisting with a nematic (N) phase, I-N-N three-phase coexistence, or N-N coexistence. These findings confirm the theoretical predictions for the stable coexisting phases for such a system. In Figs. 1(c) and 1(d) the fd-PEG-rich nematic phase floats above the fd-rich isotropic phase. Even though the volume fraction of rods is higher in the nematic phase, the mass density of the fd-rich isotropic phase is greater than that of the fd-PEG-rich nematic phase.

Figure 1.
Figure 1.

When the evolution of experimental phase behavior is compared to d for the long rods with PL predictions it qualitatively follows the phase behavior predicted for short rigid rods. Fraden et al. expected the long flexible rods to exhibits phase behavior similar to that predicted for short rigid rods because of previous studies which have shown that the excluded volume for such groups is essentially the same. This was observed. It was also seen that the experimental I-N-N coexistence is stable at much lower diameter ratios than predicted. It is thought that this is because the thin-thick rod interactions are nonadditive.

It was concluded by Fraden et al., one of the challenges that remains is to incorporate nonadditivity and flexibility into theories for the binary rod phase behavior. The experimental and theoretical results show that an I-N-N coexistence region is not required for the existence of a region of N-N coexistence in contrast to past predictions. However, the N-N upper critical point, which is predicted for very long rods in both the SVT and Parsons-Lee theory has not yet been observed experimentally; further experimental or computational studies of binary mixtures of longer, more rigid rods, may reveal this upper critical point.


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