Temperature-induced liquid crystal microdroplet formation in a partially miscible liquid mixture†
Liquid-in-liquid droplets are typically generated by the partitioning of immiscible fluids, e.g. by mechanical shearing with macroscopic homogenisers or microfluidic flow focussing. In contrast, partially miscible liquids with a critical solution temperature display a temperature-dependent mixing behaviour. In this work, we demonstrate how, for a blend of methanol (MeOH) and the thermotropic liquid crystal (LC) 4-Cyano-4′-pentylbiphenyl (5CB), cooling from a miscible to an immiscible state allows the controlled formation of microdroplets. A near-room-temperature-induced phase separation leads to nucleation, growth and coalescence of mesogen-rich droplets. The size and number of the droplets is tunable on the microscopic scale by variation of temperature quench depth and cooling rate. Further cooling induces a phase transition to nematic droplets with radial configuration, well-defined sizes and stability over the course of an hour. This temperature-induced approach offers a scalable and reversible alternative to droplet formation with relevance in diagnostics, optoelectronics, materials templating and extraction processes.