A new route towards colloidal molecules with externally tunable interaction sites†
We describe a route towards self-assembled colloidal molecules, where thermoresponsive microgels serve as discrete, externally tunable interaction sites. The ability of poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) (PNIPAM) and poly(N-isopropylmethacrylamide) (PNIPMAM) microgels to adsorb to the oil/water (O/W) interface and create Pickering-stabilized mini-emulsions was first tested using the controlled addition of sub-micron-sized polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) oil droplets to a microgel suspension. The use of a mixture of PNIPAM and PNIPMAM microgels differing in size and fluorescent labeling then resulted in the formation of thermosensitive patchy particles, where the patches can be visualised using fluorescence confocal laser scanning microscopy. The size of the assembled decorated droplets and the number of adsorbed microgels was further reduced using an in situ synthesis approach, where the oil droplets are directly synthesised in the presence of microgels. This results in the formation of highly monodisperse microgel-decorated PDMS oil droplets with a small number of microgels adsorbed to the droplet interface. We demonstrate that we can use temperature to change the interaction potential between these interaction sites and thus trigger a reversible association of the individual decorated droplets at temperatures above the volume phase transition temperature TVPT of the microgels. Finally, we investigated the temporal evolution of the decorated droplets and found that small and well-defined clusters of microgels form in the early stages of the process primarily through the action of capillary forces. These clusters mimic colloidal molecules with a small number of discrete and thermosensitive binding sites.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Nanoparticle Synthesis and Assembly