Magnetic field induced uniaxial alignment of the lyotropic liquid-crystalline PMMA-grafted Fe3O4 nanoplates with controllable interparticle interaction
Magnetite (Fe3O4) nanoplates with a hexagonal platelet shape were synthesized by two steps: hydrothermal synthesis of iron(III) oxide (α-Fe2O3) nanoplates followed by wet chemical reduction of the α-Fe2O3 nanoplates. Then, poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA) chains were grafted onto the surface of the hexagonal Fe3O4 nanoplates (F) via surface-initiated atom transfer radical polymerization (SI-ATRP), which ensures dispersion stability in organic solvents and ionic liquids. After mixing with 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium bis(trifluoromethanesulfonyl)imide ([Emim+][NTf2−]), a representative ionic liquid, the resulting PMMA-modified F were found to show good lyotropic liquid-crystalline (LC) behaviour in [Emim+][NTf2−] and to exhibit a fast response to the application of an external magnetic field. Ultra-small-angle synchrotron X-ray scattering (USAXS) measurements verified that the PMMA chain length, the weight ratio of the ionic liquid and the external magnetic field could significantly influence the interparticle distance (ID) of the PMMA-modified F in [Emim+][NTf2−]. In particular, the lyotropic LC phase could be assigned as a nematic phase with a columnar alignment. In addition, the PMMA-modified F maintained a uniaxially aligned nematic columnar structure along the magnetic field direction. Our study also determined the mechanism for the special alignment of the PMMA-modified F under an external magnetic field by analysing the growth axis, the easy magnetic axes, and the interparticle distance of F. The results suggested that the special alignment of the PMMA-modified F was affected by the interparticle interaction caused by the PMMA long chains on F under the magnetic field. Furthermore, the present study revealed that PMMA-modified F exhibited a new magnetic field responsive behaviour that led not only to the formation of a uniaxial alignment structure but also to control of ID with the help of the PMMA soft corona under the application of a magnetic field. These features could prove to be a promising advance towards novel applications of magnetic NPs, such as functional magnetic fluids, rewritable magnetic switching devices, and smart magneto-electrochemical nanosensors.