skip to main content

This content will become publicly available on March 9, 2024

Title: Liquid Crystals as Multifunctional Interfaces for Trapping and Characterizing Colloidal Microplastics

Identifying and removing microplastics (MPs) from the environment is a global challenge. This study explores how the colloidal fraction of MPs assemble into distinct 2D patterns at aqueous interfaces of liquid crystal (LC) films with the goal of developing surface‐sensitive methods for identifying MPs. Polyethylene (PE) and polystyrene (PS) microparticles are measured to exhibit distinct aggregation patterns, with addition of anionic surfactant amplifying differences in PS/PE aggregation patterns: PS changes from a linear chain‐like morphology to a singly dispersed state with increasing surfactant concentration whereas PE forms dense clusters at all surfactant concentrations. Statistical analysis of assembly patterns using deep learning image recognition models yields accurate classification, with feature importance analysis confirming that dense, multibranched assemblies are unique features of PE relative to PS. Microscopic characterization of LC ordering at the microparticle surfaces leads to predict LC‐mediated interactions (due to elastic strain) with a dipolar symmetry, a prediction consistent with the interfacial organization of PS but not PE. Further analysis leads to conclude that PE microparticles, due to their polycrystalline nature, possess rough surfaces that lead to weak LC elastic interactions and enhanced capillary forces. Overall, the results highlight the potential utility of LC interfaces for rapid identification of colloidal MPs based on their surface properties.

more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Surface adsorption of two commonly detected emerging contaminants, amlodipine (AMP) and carbamazepine (CBZ), onto model colloidal microplastics, natural organic matter (NOM), and fullerene nanomaterials have been investigated. It is found that AMP accumulation at these colloidal–aqueous interfaces is markedly higher than that of CBZ. Measurements of surface excess and particle zeta potential, along with pH-dependent adsorption studies, reveal a distinct influence of colloidal functional group on the adsorption properties of these pharmaceuticals. AMP shows a clear preference for a surface containing carboxylic group compared to an amine modified surface. CBZ, in contrast, exhibit a pH-dependent surface proclivity for both of these microparticles. The type of interactions and molecular differences with respect to structural rigidity and charge properties explain these observed behaviors. In this work, we also demonstrate a facile approach in fabricating uniform microspheres coated with NOM and C 60 nanoclusters. Subsequent binding studies on these surfaces show considerable adsorption on the NOM surface but a minimal uptake of CBZ by C 60 . Adsorption induced colloidal aggregation was not observed. These findings map out the extent of contaminant removal by colloids of different surface properties available in the aquatic environment. The methodology developed for the adsorption study also opens up the possibility for further investigations into colloidal–contaminant interactions. 
    more » « less
  2. Asymmetric interactions such as entropic (e.g., encoded by nonspherical shapes) or surface forces (e.g., encoded by patterned surface chemistry or DNA hybridization) provide access to functional states of colloidal matter, but versatile approaches for engineering asymmetric van der Waals interactions have the potential to expand further the palette of materials that can be assembled through such bottom-up processes. We show that polymerization of liquid crystal (LC) emulsions leads to compositionally homogeneous and spherical microparticles that encode van der Waals interactions with complex symmetries (e.g., quadrupolar and dipolar) that reflect the internal organization of the LC. Experiments performed using kinetically controlled probe colloid adsorption and complementary calculations support our conclusion that LC ordering can program van der Waals interactions by ~20 k B T across the surfaces of microparticles. Because diverse LC configurations can be engineered by confinement, these results provide fresh ideas for programming van der Waals interactions for assembly of soft matter. 
    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    This work is concerned with investigating the effect of substrate hydrophobicity and zeta potential on the dynamics and kinetics of the initial stages of bacterial adhesion. For this purpose, bacterial pathogensStaphylococcus aureusandEscherichia coliO157:H7 were inoculated on the substrates coated with thin thiol layers (i.e., 1-octanethiol, 1-decanethiol, 1-octadecanethiol, 16-mercaptohexadecanoic acid, and 2-aminoethanethiol hydrochloride) with varying hydrophobicity and surface potential. The time-resolved adhesion data revealed a transformation from an exponential dependence to a square root dependence on time upon changing the substrate from hydrophobic or hydrophilic with a negative zeta potential value to hydrophilic with a negative zeta potential for both pathogens. The dewetting of extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) produced byE.coliO157:H7 was more noticeable on hydrophobic substrates, compared to that ofS.aureus, which is attributed to the more amphiphilic nature of staphylococcal EPS. The interplay between the timescale of EPS dewetting and the inverse of the adhesion rate constant modulated the distribution ofE.coliO157:H7 within microcolonies and the resultant microcolonial morphology on hydrophobic substrates. Observed trends in the formation of bacterial monolayers rather than multilayers and microcolonies rather than isolated and evenly spaced bacterial cells could be explained by a colloidal model considering van der Waals and electrostatic double-layer interactions only after introducing the contribution of elastic energy due to adhesion-induced deformations at intercellular and substrate-cell interfaces. The gained knowledge is significant in the context of identifying surfaces with greater risk of bacterial contamination and guiding the development of novel surfaces and coatings with superior bacterial antifouling characteristics.

    more » « less
  4. ConspectusGold nanoparticles (AuNPs) exhibit unique size- and shape-dependent properties not obtainable at the macroscale. Gold nanorods (AuNRs), with their morphology-dependent optical properties, ability to convert light to heat, and high surface-to-volume ratios, are of great interest for biosensing, medicine, and catalysis. While the gold core provides many fascinating properties, this Account focuses on AuNP soft surface coatings, which govern the interactions of nanoparticles with the local environments. Postmodification of AuNP surface chemistry can greatly alter NP colloidal stability, nano-bio interactions, and functionality. Polyelectrolyte coatings provide controllable surface-coating thickness and charge, which impact the composition of the acquired corona in biological settings. Covalent modification, in which covalently bound ligands replace the original capping layer, is often performed with thiols and disulfides due to their ability to replace native coatings. N-heterocyclic carbenes and looped peptides expand the possible functionalities of the ligand layer.The characterization of surface ligands bound to AuNPs, in terms of ligand density and dynamics, remains a challenge. Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy is a powerful tool for understanding molecular structures and dynamics. Our recent NMR work on AuNPs demonstrated that NMR data were obtainable for ligands on NPs with diameters up to 25 nm for the first time. This was facilitated by the strong proton NMR signals of the trimethylammonium headgroup, which are present in a distinct regime from other ligand protons’ signals. Ligand density analyses showed that the smallest AuNPs (below 4 nm) had the largest ligand densities, yet spin–spin T2 measurements revealed that these smallest NPs also had the most mobile ligand headgroups. Molecular dynamics simulations were able to reconcile these seemingly contradictory results.While NMR spectroscopy provides ligand information averaged over many NPs, the ligand distribution on individual particles’ surfaces must also be probed to fully understand the surface coating. Taking advantage of improvements in electron energy loss spectroscopy (EELS) detectors employed with scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM), a single-layer graphene substrate was used to calibrate the carbon K-edge EELS signal, allowing quantitative imaging of the carbon atom densities on AuNRs with sub-nanometer spatial resolution. In collaboration with others, we revealed that the mean value for surfactant-bilayer-coated AuNRs had 10–30% reduced ligand density at the ends of the rods compared to the sides, confirming prior indirect evidence for spatially distinct ligand densities.Recent work has found that surface ligands on nanoparticles can, somewhat surprisingly, enhance the selectivity and efficiency of the electrocatalytic reduction of CO2 by controlling access to the active site, tuning its electronic and chemical environment, or denying entry to impurities that poison the nanoparticle surface to facilitate reduction. Looking to the future, while NMR and EELS are powerful and complementary techniques for investigating surface coatings on AuNPs, the frontier of this field includes the development of methods to probe the surface ligands of individual NPs in a high-throughput manner, to monitor nano-bio interactions within complex matrices, and to study structure–property relationships of AuNPs in biological systems. 
    more » « less
  5. null (Ed.)
    Colloidal gels represent an important class of soft matter, in which networks formed due to strong, short-range interactions display solid-like mechanical properties, such as a finite low-frequency elastic modulus. Here we examine the effect of embedded active colloids on the linear viscoelastic moduli of fractal cluster colloidal gels. We find that the autonomous, out-of-equilibrium dynamics of active colloids incorporated into the colloidal network decreases gel elasticity, in contrast to observed stiffening effects of myosin motors in actin networks. Fractal cluster gels are formed by the well-known mechanism of aggregating polystyrene colloids through addition of divalent electrolyte. Active Janus particles with a platinum hemisphere are created from the same polystyrene colloids and homogeneously embedded in the gels at dilute concentration at the time of aggregation. Upon addition of hydrogen peroxide – a fuel that drives the diffusiophoretic motion of the embedded Janus particles – the microdynamics and mechanical rheology change in proportion to the concentration of hydrogen peroxide and the number of active colloids. We propose a theoretical explanation of this effect in which the decrease in modulus is mediated by active motion-induced softening of the inter-particle attraction. Furthermore, we characterize the failure of the fluctuation–dissipation theorem in the active gels by identifying a discrepancy between the frequency-dependent macroscopic viscoelastic moduli and the values predicted by microrheology from measurement of the gel microdynamics. These findings support efforts to engineer gels for autonomous function by tuning the microscopic dynamics of embedded active particles. Such reconfigurable gels, with multi-state mechanical properties, could find application in materials such as paints and coatings, pharmaceuticals, self-healing materials, and soft robotics. 
    more » « less