Gelation as arrested phase separation in short-ranged attractive colloid-polymer mixtures

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Gelation as arrested phase separation in short-ranged attractive colloid-polymer mixtures

Emanuela Zaccarelli, Peter J Lu, Fabio Ciulla, David A. Weitz, and Francesco Sciortino

J. Phys.: Condens. Matter 20, 494242 (2008).

Soft matter keywords: gelation, phase separation, colloid, polymer, spinodal decomposition

Summary

Gels are a ubiquitous presence in the world of soft matter. Understanding the gelation process has wide-ranging industrial applications, such as food and cosmetics, where the stability of the product is crucial. The authors used a colloid-polymer mixture as a model for these systems. The micron-sized particles are in the ideal size range, in which they are large enough to view under an optical microscope, yet small enough to be affected by fluctuations with energy comparable to kBT. The process of gelation occurs when networks of particles span the entire fluid. When these networks become arrested, they retain their form and are able to support shear stress. The present study uses a combination of confocal microscopy and numerical simulations to verify a new theory for how phase separation can lead to gelation. This process is independent of the specific interaction potential between the colloid particles, making it more widely applicable.

What does this have to do with soft matter?

Everything.

written by Naveen N. Sinha