Goldilocks principle wrong for particle assembly: Too hot and too cold is just right

October 20, 2014

Microscopic particles that bind under low temperatures will melt as temperatures rise to moderate levels, but re-connect under hotter conditions, a team of New York University scientists has found. Their discovery points to new ways to create "smart materials," cutting-edge materials that adapt to their environment by taking new forms, and to sharpen the detail of 3D printing.

"These findings show the potential to engineer the properties of materials using not only temperature, but also by employing a range of methods to manipulate the smallest of particles," explains Lang Feng, the study's lead author and an NYU doctoral student at the time it was conducted.

The research, which appears in the journal Nature Materials, reveals that the well-known Goldilocks Principle, which posits that success is found in the middle rather than at extremes, doesn't necessarily apply to the smallest of particles.

The study focuses on polymers and colloids--particles as small as one-billionth and one-millionth of a meter in size, respectively.

These materials, and how they form, are of notable interest to scientists because they are the basis for an array of consumer products. For instance, colloidal dispersions comprise such everyday items as paint, milk, gelatin, glass, and porcelain and for advanced engineering such as steering light in photonics. By better understanding polymer and colloidal formation, scientists have the potential to harness these particles and create new and enhanced materials--possibilities that are now largely untapped or are in relatively rudimentary form.

In the Nature Materials study, the researchers examined polymers and larger colloidal crystals at temperatures ranging from room temperature to 85 degrees C.

At room temperature, the polymers act as a gas bumping against the larger particles and applying a pressure that forces them together once the distance between the particles is too small to admit a polymer. In fact, the colloids form a crystal using this process known as the depletion interaction--an attractive entropic force, which is a dynamic that results from maximizing the random motion of the polymers and the range of space they have the freedom to explore.

As usual, the crystals melt on heating, but, unexpectedly, on heating further they re-solidify. The new solid is a Jello-like substance, with the polymers adhering to the colloids and gluing them together. This solid is much softer, more pliable and more open than the crystal.

This result, the researchers observe, reflects enthalpic attraction--the adhesive energy generated by the higher temperatures and stimulating bonding between the particles. By contrast, at the mid-level temperatures, conditions were too warm to accommodate entropic force, yet too cool to bring about enthalpic attraction.

Lang, now a senior researcher at ExxonMobil, observes that the finding may have potential in 3D printing. Currently, this technology can create 3D structures from two-dimensional layers. However, the resulting structures are relatively rudimentary in nature. By enhancing how particles are manipulated at the microscopic level, these machines could begin creating objects that are more detailed, and realistic, than is currently possible.
-end-
This work is supported partially by the National Science Foundation's MRSEC Program (DMR-0820341), NASA (NNX08AK04G), and the Department of Energy (DE-SC0007991).

New York University

Related Polymers Articles from Brightsurf:

Seeking the most effective polymers for personal protective equipment
Personal protective equipment, like face masks and gowns, is generally made of polymers.

Ultraheavy precision polymers
An environmentally friendly and sustainable synthesis of ''heavyweight'' polymers with very narrow molecular weight distributions is an important concept in modern polymer chemistry.

FSU researchers help develop sustainable polymers
Researchers at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering have made new discoveries on the effects of temperature on sustainable polymers.

Structural colors from cellulose-based polymers
A surface displays structural colors when light is reflected by tiny, regular structural elements in a transparent material.

Growing polymers with different lengths
ETH researchers have developed a new method for producing polymers with different lengths.

Exciting new developments for polymers made from waste sulfur
Researchers at the University of Liverpool are making significant progress in the quest to develop new sulfur polymers that provide an environmentally friendly alternative to some traditional petrochemical based plastics.

Polymers can fine-tune attractions between suspended nanocubes
In new research published in EPJ E, researchers demonstrate a high level of control over a type of colloid in which the suspended particles take the form of hollow, nanoscale cubes.

Functional polymers to improve thermal stability of bioplastics
One of the key objectives for contemporary chemistry is to improve thermomechanical properties of polymers, in particular, thermostability of bioplastics.

Fluorescent technique brings aging polymers to light
Modern society relies on polymers, such as polypropylene or polyethylene plastic, for a wide range of applications, from food containers to automobile parts to medical devices.

Polymers to the rescue! Saving cells from damaging ice
Research published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society by University of Utah chemists Pavithra Naullage and Valeria Molinero provides the foundation to design efficient polymers that can prevent the growth of ice that damages cells.

Read More: Polymers News and Polymers Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.