Di Lorenzo, F. & Seiffert, S. Colloid Polym Sci (2013) 291: 2927. doi:10.1007/s00396-013-3032-8
Microgels are deformable colloids that can be packed by external compression; such packing transforms a suspension of loose microgels into a viscoelastic paste with mechanical properties controlled by the elasticity of the constituent particles. We aim to understand how the presence of microgel particles with different individual elastic moduli affects this interplay in heterogeneous microgel packings. We do this by preparing microgel pastes that contain both soft, loosely cross-linked and stiff, densely cross-linked microgel particles and probe their shear elasticity. We consider particle packing fractions that cover the range from particles at the onset of contact to particles that are strongly packed, deformed, and deswollen to investigate the transition from a particulate suspension to a macrogel-type system. These studies reveal that the elasticity of heterogeneous microgel suspensions at low packing is due to the response of the soft, easily deformable microgel particles alone, whereas at high packing both soft and stiff microgels linearly add to the paste elasticity. This fundamental difference is due to the fundamentally different origin of elasticity at different microgel packing; whereas the soft particle interaction potential dominates the suspension mechanics at low microgel packing, rubber-like elasticity that equally reflects both soft and stiff contributions governs the mechanics of the same samples at high microgel packing.