Flower-like droplets by self-emulsification of a phase-separating (SEPS) aqueous film
Self-emulsification, referring to the spontaneous formation of droplets of one phase in another immiscible phase, is attracting growing interest because of its simplicity in creating droplets. Existing self-emulsification methods usually rely on phase inversion, temperature cycling, and solvent evaporation. However, achieving spatiotemporal control over the morphology of self-emulsified droplets remains challenging. In this work, a conceptually new approach of creating both simple and complex droplets by self-emulsification of a phase-separating (SEPS) aqueous film, is reported. The aqueous film is formed by depositing a surfactant-laden aqueous droplet onto an aqueous surface, and the fragmentation of film into droplets is triggered by a wetting transition. Smaller and more uniform droplets can be achieved by introducing liquid-liquid phase separation (LLPS). Moreover, properly modulating quadruple LLPS and film fragmentation enables creation of highly multicellular droplets such as flower-like droplets stabilized by the interfacial self-assembly of nanoparticles. This work provides a novel strategy to design aqueous droplets by LLPS, and will inspire a wide range of applications such as membraneless organelle synthesis, cell mimics and delivery.