Self-organization of tip-functionalized elongated colloidal particles

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Weakly attractive interactions between the tips of rodlike colloidal particles affect their liquid-crystal phase behavior due to a subtle interplay between enthalpy and entropy. Here we employ molecular dynamics simulations on semiflexible, repulsive bead-spring chains where one of the two end beads attract each other. We calculate the phase diagram as a function of both the volume fraction of the chains and the strength of the attractive potential. We identify a large number of phases that include isotropic, nematic, smectic-A, smectic-B, and crystalline states. For tip attraction energies lower than the thermal energy, our results are qualitatively consistent with experimental findings: We find that an increase of the attraction strength shifts the nematic to smectic-A phase transition to lower volume fractions, with only minor effect on the stability of the other phases. For sufficiently strong tip attraction, the nematic phase disappears completely, in addition leading to the destabilization of the isotropic phase. In order to better understand the underlying physics of these phenomena, we also investigate the clustering of the particles at their attractive tips and the effective molecular field experienced by the particles in the smectic-A phase. Based on these results, we argue that the clustering of the tips only affects the phase stability if lamellar structures ("micelles") are formed. We find that an increase of the attraction strength increases the degree of order in the layered phases. Interestingly, we also find evidence for the existence of an antiferroelectric smectic-A phase transition induced by the interaction between the tips. A simple Maier-Saupe-McMillan model confirms our findings.

Original languageEnglish
Article number042702
Number of pages14
JournalPhysical Review E
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 7 Oct 2019


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