Sedimentation of colloidal plate-sphere mixtures and inference of particle characteristics from stacking sequences

T. Eckert, M. Schmidt, and D. de las Heras
Phys. Rev. Res., 4, 013189, (2022)     DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevResearch.4.013189
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We investigate theoretically the effect of gravity on a plate-sphere colloidal mixture by means of an Onsager-like density functional to describe the bulk, and sedimentation path theory to incorporate gravity. We calculate the stacking diagram of the mixture for two sets of buoyant masses and different values of the sample height. Several stacking sequences appear due to the intricate interplay between gravity, the sample height, and bulk phase separation. These include the experimentally observed floating nematic sequence, which consists of a nematic layer sandwiched between two isotropic layers. The values of the thicknesses of the layers in a complex stacking sequence can be used to obtain microscopic information of the mixture. Using the thicknesses of the layers in the floating nematic sequence we are able to infer the values of the buoyant masses from the colloidal concentrations and vice versa. We also predict new phenomena that can be experimentally tested, such as a non-trivial evolution of the stacking sequence by increasing the sample height in which new layers appear either at the top or at the bottom of the sample.

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