Relating structure and flow of soft colloids
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To relate the complex macroscopic flow of soft colloids to details of its microscopic equilibrium and non-equilibrium structure is still one big challenge in soft matter science. We investigated several well-defined colloidal model systems like star polymers or diblock copolymer micelles by linear/non-linear rheology, static/dynamic light scattering (SLS/DLS) and small angle neutron scattering (SANS). In addition, in-situ SANS experiments during shear (Rheo-SANS) revealed directly shear induced structural changes on a microscopic level. Varying the molecular architecture of the individual colloidal particle as well as particle-particle interactions and covering at the same time a broad concentration range from the very dilute to highly concentrated, glassy regime, we could separate contributions from intra- and inter-particle softness. Both can be precisely “tuned” by varying systematically the functionality, 6 ≤ f≤ 64, for star polymers or aggregation number, 30 ≤ Nagg≤ 1000 for diblock copolymer micelles, as well as the degree of polymerization of the individual polymer arm 100 ≤ Dp ≤ 3000. In dilute solutions, the characteristic shear rate at which deformation of the soft colloid is observed can be related to the Zimm time of the polymeric corona. In concentrated solutions, we validated a generalized Stokes-Einstein approach to describe the increase in macroscopic viscosity and mesoscopic self diffusion coefficient on approaching the glassy regime. Both can be explained in terms of an ultra-soft interaction potential. Moreover, non-equilibrium structure factors are obtained by Rheo-SANS. All experimental results are in excellent quantitative agreement with recent theoretical predictions.
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