Effect of Internal Architecture on the Assembly of Soft Particles at Fluid Interfaces

J Vialetto and F Camerin and F Grillo and SN Ramakrishna and L Rovigatti and E Zaccarelli and L Isa, ACS NANO, 15, 13105-13117 (2021).

DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.1c02486

Monolayers of soft colloidal particles confined at fluid interfaces are at the core of a broad range of technological processes, from the stabilization of responsive foams and emulsions to advanced lithographic techniques. However, establishing a fundamental relation between their internal architecture, which is controlled during synthesis, and their structural and mechanical properties upon interfacial confinement remains an elusive task. To address this open issue, which defines the monolayer's properties, we synthesize core-shell microgels, whose soft core can be chemically degraded in a controlled fashion. This strategy allows us to obtain a series of particles ranging from analogues of standard batch-synthesized microgels to completely hollow ones after total core removal. Combined experimental and numerical results show that our hollow particles have a thin and deformable shell, leading to a temperature-responsive collapse of the internal cavity and a complete flattening after adsorption at a fluid interface. Mechanical characterization shows that a critical degree of core removal is required to obtain soft disk-like particles at an oilwater interface, which present a distinct response to compression. At low packing fractions, the mechanical response of the monolayer is dominated by the outer polymer chains forming a corona surrounding the particles within the interfacial plane, regardless of the presence of a core. By contrast, at high compression, the absence of a core enables the particles to deform in the direction orthogonal to the interface and to be continuously compressed without altering the monolayer structure. These findings show how fine, single-particle architectural control during synthesis can be engineered to determine the interfacial behavior of microgels, enabling one to link particle conformation with the resulting material properties.

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