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Title: Mimicry of a biophysical pathway leads to diverse pollen-like surface patterns

A ubiquitous structural feature in biological systems is texture in extracellular matrix that gains functions when hardened, for example, cell walls, insect scales, and diatom tests. Here, we develop patterned liquid crystal elastomer (LCE) particles by recapitulating the biophysical patterning mechanism that forms pollen grain surfaces. In pollen grains, a phase separation of extracellular material into a pattern of condensed and fluid-like phases induces undulations in the underlying elastic cell membrane to form patterns on the cell surface. In this work, LCE particles with variable surface patterns were created through a phase separation of liquid crystal oligomers (LCOs) droplet coupled to homeotropic anchoring at the droplet interface, analogously to the pollen grain wall formation. Specifically, nematically ordered polydisperse LCOs and isotropic organic solvent (dichloromethane) phase-separate at the surface of oil-in-water droplets, while, different LCO chain lengths segregate to different surface curvatures simultaneously. This phase separation, which creates a distortion in the director field, is in competition with homeotropic anchoring induced by sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS). By tuning the polymer chemistry of the system, we are able to influence this separation process and tune the types of surface patterns in these pollen-like microparticles. Our study reveals that the energetically favorable biological more » mechanism can be leveraged to offer simple yet versatile approaches to synthesize microparticles for mechanosensing, tissue engineering, drug delivery, energy storage, and displays.

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Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
p. 9699-9705
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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