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Title: Two-step crystallization and solid–solid transitions in binary colloidal mixtures
Crystallization is fundamental to materials science and is central to a variety of applications, ranging from the fabrication of silicon wafers for microelectronics to the determination of protein structures. The basic picture is that a crystal nucleates from a homogeneous fluid by a spontaneous fluctuation that kicks the system over a single free-energy barrier. However, it is becoming apparent that nucleation is often more complicated than this simple picture and, instead, can proceed via multiple transformations of metastable structures along the pathway to the thermodynamic minimum. In this article, we observe, characterize, and model crystallization pathways using DNA-coated colloids. We use optical microscopy to investigate the crystallization of a binary colloidal mixture with single-particle resolution. We observe classical one-step pathways and nonclassical two-step pathways that proceed via a solid–solid transformation of a crystal intermediate. We also use enhanced sampling to compute the free-energy landscapes corresponding to our experiments and show that both one- and two-step pathways are driven by thermodynamics alone. Specifically, the two-step solid–solid transition is governed by a competition between two different crystal phases with free energies that depend on the crystal size. These results extend our understanding of available pathways to crystallization, by showing that size-dependent thermodynamic more » forces can produce pathways with multiple crystal phases that interconvert without free-energy barriers and could provide approaches to controlling the self-assembly of materials made from colloids. « less
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Journal Name:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
27927 to 27933
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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