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Nanoparticle self-assembly at the interface of liquid crystal droplets

Rahimi, Mohammad
Roberts, Tyler F
Armas-Pérez, Julio C
Wang, Xiaoguang
Büküşoğlu, Emre
Abbott, Nicholas L
de Pablo, Juan Jose
Nanoparticles adsorbed at the interface of nematic liquid crystals are known to form ordered structures whose morphology depends on the orientation of the underlying nematic field. The origin of such structures is believed to result from an interplay between the liquid crystal orientation at the particles' surface, the orientation at the liquid crystal's air interface, and the bulk elasticity of the underlying liquid crystal. In this work, we consider nanoparticle assembly at the interface of nematic droplets. We present a systematic study of the free energy of nanoparticle-laden droplets in terms of experiments and a Landau-de Gennes formalism. The results of that study indicate that, even for conditions under which particles interact only weakly at flat interfaces, particles aggregate at the poles of bipolar droplets and assemble into robust, quantized arrangements that can be mapped onto hexagonal lattices. The contributions of elasticity and interfacial energy corresponding to different arrangements are used to explain the resulting morphologies, and the predictions of the model are shown to be consistent with experimental observations. The findings presented here suggest that particle-laden liquid crystal droplets could provide a unique and versatile route toward building blocks for hierarchical materials assembly.