An electric-field induced dynamical state in dispersions of charged colloidal rods†
The response of concentrated dispersions of charged colloids to low-frequency electric fields is governed by field-induced inter-colloidal interactions resulting from the polarization of electric double layers and the layer of condensed ions, association and dissociation of condensed ions, as well as hydrodynamic interactions through field-induced electro-osmotic flow. The phases and states that can be formed by such field-induced interactions are an essentially unexplored field of research. Experiments on concentrated suspensions of rod-like colloids (fd-virus particles), within the isotropic–nematic phase coexistence region, showed that a number of phases/states are induced, depending on the field amplitude and frequency [Soft Matter, 2010, 6, 273]. In particular, a dynamical state is found where nematic domains form and melt on a time scale of the order of seconds. We discuss the microscopic origin of this dynamical state, which is attributed to the cyclic, electric-field induced dissociation and association of condensed ions. A semi-quantitative theory is presented for the dynamics of melting and formation of nematic domains, including a model for the field-induced dissociation/association of condensed ions. The resulting equation of motion for the orientational order parameter is solved numerically for parameters complying with the fd-virus system. A limit-cycle is found, with a cycling-time that diverges at the transition line in the field-amplitude versus frequency plane where the dynamical state first appears, in accord with experimental findings.