Self-shaping of oil droplets via the formation of intermediate rotator phases upon cooling.


Revealing the chemical and physical mechanisms underlying symmetry breaking and shape transformations is key to understanding morphogenesis. If we are to synthesize artificial structures with similar control and complexity to biological systems, we need energy- and material-efficient bottom-up processes to create building blocks of various shapes that can further assemble into hierarchical structures. Lithographic top-down processing allows a high level of structural control in microparticle production but at the expense of limited productivity. Conversely, bottom-up particle syntheses have higher material and energy efficiency, but are more limited in the shapes achievable. Linear hydrocarbons are known to pass through a series of metastable plastic rotator phases before freezing. Here we show that by using appropriate cooling protocols, we can harness these phase transitions to control the deformation of liquid hydrocarbon droplets and then freeze them into solid particles, permanently preserving their shape. Upon cooling, the droplets spontaneously break their shape symmetry several times, morphing through a series of complex regular shapes owing to the internal phase-transition processes. In this way we produce particles including micrometre-sized octahedra, various polygonal platelets, O-shapes, and fibres of submicrometre diameter, which can be selectively frozen into the corresponding solid particles. This mechanism offers insights into achieving complex morphogenesis from a system with a minimal number of molecular components.

DOI: 10.1038/nature16189

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@article{Denkov2015SelfshapingOO, title={Self-shaping of oil droplets via the formation of intermediate rotator phases upon cooling.}, author={Nikolai Denkov Denkov and Slavka S Tcholakova and Ivan Lesov and Diana Cholakova and Stoyan K Smoukov}, journal={Nature}, year={2015}, volume={528 7582}, pages={392-5} }