Thermodynamics predicts a stable microdroplet phase in polymer-gel mixtures undergoing elastic phase separation
We study the thermodynamics of binary mixtures with the volume fraction of the minority component less than the amount required to form a flat interface and show that the surface tension dominated equilibrium phase of the mixture forms a single macroscopic droplet. Elastic interactions in gel-polymer mixtures stabilize a phase with multiple droplets. Using a mean-field free energy we compute the droplet size as a function of the interfacial tension, Flory parameter, and elastic moduli of the gel. Our results illustrate the role of elastic interactions in dictating the phase behavior of biopolymers undergoing liquid-liquid phase separation.