Optical experiments on a crystallizing hard-sphere-polymer mixture at coexistence.

Physical review. E, Statistical, nonlinear, and soft matter physics

PubMedID: 20866224

Stipp A, Schöpe HJ, Palberg T, Eckert T, Biehl R, Bartsch E. Optical experiments on a crystallizing hard-sphere-polymer mixture at coexistence. Phys Rev E Stat Nonlin Soft Matter Phys. 2010;81(5 Pt 1):051401.
We report on the crystallization kinetics in an entropically attractive colloidal system using a combination of time resolved scattering methods and microscopy. Hard sphere particles are polystyrene microgels swollen in a good solvent (radius a=380 nm, starting volume fraction 0.534) with the short ranged attractions induced by the presence of short polymer chains (radius of gyration r g=3 nm, starting volume fraction 0.0224). After crystallization, stacking faulted face centered cubic crystals coexist with about 5% of melt remaining in the grain boundaries. From the Bragg scattering signal we infer the amount of crystalline material, the average crystallite size and the number density of crystals as a function of time. This allows to discriminate an early stage of conversion, followed by an extended coarsening stage. The small angle scattering (SALS) appears only long after completed conversion and exhibits Furukawa scaling for all times. Additional microscopic experiments reveal that the grain boundaries have a reduced Bragg scattering power but possess an increased refractive index. Fits of the Furukawa function indicate that the dimensionality of the scatterers decreases from 2.25 at short times to 1.65 at late times and the characteristic length scale is slightly larger than the average crystallite size. Together this suggests the SALS signal is due scattering from a foam like grain boundary network as a whole.