Suspensions of titania nanoparticle networks in nematic liquid crystals: rheology and microstructure
We study the influence of confinement on the rheology and structure of nematic liquid crystals (NLCs). NLCs get confined in networks of titania (TiO2, primary particle size = 21 nm) nanoparticles in suspensions of TiO2 and NLC, N-(4-methoxybenzylidene)-4-butylaniline (MBBA). Suspensions with TiO2 nanoparticle volume fraction (ϕ) of 0.006–0.017, form viscoelastic solids with low elastic modulus (G′) of 101 Pa–102 Pa and short relaxation times. Increase in TiO2 nanoparticle ϕ leads to a rise in G′ with TiO2 nanoparticles forming a percolating network at a critical volume fraction (ϕ c) = 0.023, and G′ of ~103 Pa. TiO2/MBBA NLC suspensions at and above ϕ c = 0.023 show G′ ~ ω x−1 scaling, where ω is the angular frequency and the minimum in loss modulus (G′′) with ω. The effective noise temperature, x decreases and approaches 1 with the increase in the TiO2 nanoparticle ϕ from 0.023–0.035, is indicative of an increase in the glassy dynamics. Through the polarized light microscopy and differential scanning calorimetry experiments, we propose that the progressive addition of TiO2 nanoparticles introduces a quenched random disorder (QRD) in the NLC medium which disturbs the nematic order. This results in metastable TiO2/MBBA NLC suspensions in which NLC domains get confined in the network of flocs of TiO2 nanoparticles. We also show that the salient rheological signatures of soft glassy rheology develop only in the presence of NLC MBBA and are absent in the isotropic phase of MBBA.
KeywordsNematic liquid crystals Soft glassy rheology Quenched random disorder
Prachi Thareja acknowledges Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB), Department of Science and Technology, ( grant # EMR/2016/003840), New Delhi, for funding this work. The authors also thank Sophia Varghese and Sanat Chandra Maiti for the assistance provided for performing the DSC measurements. The authors acknowledge the help provided by the Central Research Facility of IIT Gandhinagar for the SEM imaging.
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