Nonadditive interactions and phase transitions in strongly confined colloidal systems†
The behaviour of colloids can be controlled effectively by tuning the solvent-mediated interactions among them. An extensively studied example is the temperature-induced aggregation of suspended colloids close to the consolute point of their binary solvent. Here, using mean field theory and Monte Carlo simulations, we study the behaviour of colloids confined to a narrow slit containing a nearly-critical binary liquid mixture. We found that the effective interactions in this system are highly non-additive. In particular, the effective interactions among the colloids can be a few times stronger than the corresponding sum of the effective pair potentials. Inter alia, this non-additivity manifests itself in the phase behaviour of confined colloids, which depends sensitively on the slit width and temperature. In addition, we demonstrate the possibility of a first-order bridging transition between colloids confined to a slit and suspended in a phase-separated fluid well below the critical point of the solvent and at its critical composition in the bulk. This transition is accompanied by a remarkably large hysteresis loop, in which the force between the colloids varies by two orders of magnitude.