Controlled Assembly of Jammed Colloidal Shells on Fluid Droplets

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Zach Wissner-Gross (March 9, 2009)


Controlled assembly of jammed colloidal shells on fluid droplets

Anand Bala Subramaniam, Manouk Abkarian, and Howard Stone

Nature Materials, 2005, 4, 553-556

Soft matter keywords

Adsorption, self-assembly, surface tension


Stone and coworkers use hydrodynamic focusing in PDMS microchannels to form what they call "colloidal armor" around a gas or liquid bubble. They accomplish this by flowing two colloid suspensions from either side into the path of a central channel containing the liquid/gas that will ultimately become the core of the colloid shell (Figure 1). Fluorescent polystyrene beads were chosen here as the colloid.

The authors also noted several very interesting properties of the assembly. First was that the colloidal shells were "jammed," as stated in the paper's title, meaning that the colloidal particles did not diffuse around the surface, instead exhibiting solid or crystalline behavior with a few predictable point defects. This allowed them to record a rather fascinating image in which they created a bubble whose armor consists of two hemispheres of different colors (Figure 2). Also notable was the fact that only certain particles were able to become a part of the colloidal armor. This will be discussed in greater detail below.

What is novel about this shell synthesis method was, as the authors say, that it "allows an unprecedented degree of control over armour composition, size and stability." I find multicomponent shell synthesis (Figure 2) to be particularly exciting, as it can lead to the creation of microparticles expressing multiple antigens in well-defined and locked positions for drug delivery and other applications.

Soft matter discussion

As I stated in the summary, only certain colloidal particles were integrated into the shells, and there's some very interesting physics at work here that the authors don't completely explain. As you can see in Figure 4, only beads flowing in above a specific line will form the shell. The authors state that this is because these beads possess sufficient energy to immerse themselves in the interface, at which point they sit in an energy well and are stuck. The authors cite the work of Pawel Pieranski [1], who showed in 1980 that colloids can form interfacial crystals due to their asymmetric charge distribution. The authors also estimate that this energy well has a magnitude of approximately <math>10^7</math> <math>k_BT</math>.