We report qualitatively on the differences between colloidal systems left to evolve in the Earth's gravitational field and the same systems for which a slow continuous rotation averaged out the effects of particle sedimentation on a distance scale small compared to the particle size. Several systems of micron-sized colloidal particles were studied: a hard sphere fluid, colloids interacting via long-range electrostatic repulsion above the freezing volume fraction, an oppositely charged colloidal system close to either gelation and/or crystallization, colloids with a competing short-range depletion attraction and a long-range electrostatic repulsion, colloidal dipolar chains, and colloidal gold platelets under conditions where they formed stacks. Important differences in structure formation were observed between the experiments where the particles were allowed to sediment and those where sedimentation was averaged out. For instance, in the case of colloids interacting via long-range electrostatic repulsion, an unusual sequence of dilute-fluid–dilute-crystal–dense-fluid–dense-crystal phases was observed throughout the suspension under the effect of gravity. This was related to the volume fraction dependence of the colloidal interactions, whereas the system stayed homogeneously crystallized with rotation. For the oppositely charged colloids, a gel-like structure was found to collapse under the influence of gravity with a few crystalline layers grown on top of the sediment, whereas when the colloidal sedimentation was averaged out, the gel completely transformed into crystallites that were oriented randomly throughout the sample. Rotational averaging out of gravitational sedimentation is an effective and cheap way to estimate the importance of gravity for colloidal self-assembly processes.
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