Transient coarsening and the motility of optically heated Janus colloids in a binary liquid mixture†
A gold-capped Janus particle suspended in a near-critical binary liquid mixture can self-propel under illumination. We have immobilized such a particle in a narrow channel and carried out a combined experimental and theoretical study of the non-equilibrium dynamics of a binary solvent around it – lasting from the very moment of switching illumination on until the steady state is reached. In the theoretical study we use both a purely diffusive and a hydrodynamic model, which we solve numerically. Our results demonstrate a remarkable complexity of the time evolution of the concentration field around the colloid. This evolution is governed by the combined effects of the temperature gradient and the wettability, and crucially depends on whether the colloid is free to move or is trapped. For the trapped colloid, all approaches indicate that the early time dynamics is purely diffusive and characterized by composition layers travelling with constant speed from the surface of the colloid into the bulk of the solvent. Subsequently, hydrodynamic effects set in. Anomalously large nonequilibrium fluctuations, which result from the temperature gradient and the vicinity of the critical point of the binary liquid mixture, give rise to strong concentration fluctuations in the solvent and to permanently changing coarsening patterns not observed for a mobile particle. The early time dynamics around initially still Janus colloids produces a force which is able to set the Janus colloid into motion. The propulsion due to this transient dynamics is in the direction opposite to that observed after the steady state is attained.