Arrested and temporarily arrested states in a protein–polymer mixture studied by USAXS and VSANS†
We investigate the transition of the phase separation kinetics from a complete to an arrested liquid–liquid phase separation (LLPS) in mixtures of bovine γ-globulin with polyethylene glycol (PEG). The solutions feature LLPS with upper critical solution temperature phase behavior. At higher PEG concentrations or low temperatures, non-equilibrium, gel-like states are found. The kinetics is followed during off-critical quenches by ultra-small angle X-ray scattering (USAXS) and very-small angle neutron scattering (VSANS). For shallow quenches a kinetics consistent with classical spinodal decomposition is found, with the characteristic length (ξ) growing with time as ξ ∼ t1/3. For deep quenches, ξ grows only very slowly with a growth exponent smaller than 0.05 during the observation time, indicating an arrested phase separation. For intermediate quench depths, a novel growth kinetics featuring a three-stage coarsening is observed, with an initial classical coarsening, a subsequent slowdown of the growth, and a later resumption of coarsening approaching again ξ ∼ t1/3. Samples featuring the three-stage coarsening undergo a temporarily arrested state. We hypothesize that, while intermittent coarsening and collapse might contribute to the temporary nature of the arrested state, migration-coalescence of the minority liquid phase through the majority glassy phase may be the main mechanism underlying this kinetics, which is also consistent with earlier simulation results.