From soft to hard rod behavior in liquid crystalline suspensions of sterically stabilized colloidal filamentous particles†
The liquid crystalline phase behavior of a colloidal system of sterically stabilized rods is reported. Our colloidal suspensions consist of highly monodisperse, semi-flexible filamentous viruses which have been coated with neutral hydrophilic polymers by irreversibly binding poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) to the surface of the virus particles. Depending on the size of the grafted polymer, up to three different phase transitions are observed (isotropic-to-chiral nematic, chiral nematic-to-smectic, and smectic-to-columnar). Each phase transition is shown to be independent of ionic strength, confirming the steric stabilization of the viral colloids. A direct, i.e. without any free parameters, comparison with theory and computer simulations of the volume fraction associated with the phase transition can be performed, showing a quantitative agreement with hard rod behavior at a low polymer chain size, and some deviation stemming from soft repulsion by increasing the polymer thickness coating of the rod. Specifically, we demonstrate that the columnar mesophase is not stabilized by electrostatic repulsion, and we discuss the conditions of its existence.