Control of colloidal placement by modulated molecular orientation in nematic cells


Colloids self-assemble into various organized superstructures determined by particle interactions. There is tremendous progress in both the scientific understanding and the applications of self-assemblies of single-type identical particles. Forming superstructures in which the colloidal particles occupy predesigned sites and remain in these sites despite thermal fluctuations represents a major challenge of the current state of the art. We propose a versatile approach to directing placement of colloids using nematic liquid crystals with spatially varying molecular orientation preimposed by substrate photoalignment. Colloidal particles in a nematic environment are subject to the long-range elastic forces originating in the orientational order of the nematic. Gradients of the orientational order create an elastic energy landscape that drives the colloids into locations with preferred type of deformations. As an example, we demonstrate that colloidal spheres with perpendicular surface anchoring are driven into the regions of maximum splay, whereas spheres with tangential surface anchoring settle into the regions of bend. Elastic forces responsible for preferential placement are measured by exploring overdamped dynamics of the colloids. Control of colloidal self-assembly through patterned molecular orientation opens new opportunities for designing materials and devices in which particles should be placed in predesigned locations.

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Science Advances