Control over the spatial arrangement of colloids in soft matter hosts implies control over a wide variety of properties, ranging from the system’s rheology, optics, and catalytic activity. In directed assembly, colloids are typically manipulated using external fields to form well-defined structures at given locations. We have been developing alternative strategies based on fields that arise when a colloid is placed within soft matter to form an inclusion that generates a potential field. Such potential fields allow particles to interact with each other. If the soft matter host is deformed in some way, the potential allows the particles to interact with the global system distortion. One important example is capillary assembly of colloids on curved fluid interfaces. Upon attaching, the particle distorts that interface, with an associated energy field, given by the product of its interfacial area and the surface tension. The particle’s capillary energy depends on the local interface curvature. We explore this coupling in experiment and theory. There are important analogies in liquid crystals. Colloids in liquid crystals elicit an elastic energy response. When director fields are moulded by confinement, the imposed elastic energy field can couple to that of the colloid to define particle paths and sites for assembly. By improving our understanding of these and related systems, we seek to develop new, parallelizable routes for particle assembly to form reconfigurable systems in soft matter that go far beyond the usual close-packed colloidal structures.
This article is part of the themed issue ‘Soft interfacial materials: from fundamentals to formulation’.
One contribution of 15 to a discussion meeting issue ‘Soft interfacial materials: from fundamentals to formulation’.
- Accepted January 29, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.