Achiral symmetry breaking and positive Gaussian modulus lead to scalloped colloidal membranes. Academic Article uri icon


  • In the presence of a nonadsorbing polymer, monodisperse rod-like particles assemble into colloidal membranes, which are one-rod-length-thick liquid-like monolayers of aligned rods. Unlike 3D edgeless bilayer vesicles, colloidal monolayer membranes form open structures with an exposed edge, thus presenting an opportunity to study elasticity of fluid sheets. Membranes assembled from single-component chiral rods form flat disks with uniform edge twist. In comparison, membranes composed of a mixture of rods with opposite chiralities can have the edge twist of either handedness. In this limit, disk-shaped membranes become unstable, instead forming structures with scalloped edges, where two adjacent lobes with opposite handedness are separated by a cusp-shaped point defect. Such membranes adopt a 3D configuration, with cusp defects alternatively located above and below the membrane plane. In the achiral regime, the cusp defects have repulsive interactions, but away from this limit we measure effective long-ranged attractive binding. A phenomenological model shows that the increase in the edge energy of scalloped membranes is compensated by concomitant decrease in the deformation energy due to Gaussian curvature associated with scalloped edges, demonstrating that colloidal membranes have positive Gaussian modulus. A simple excluded volume argument predicts the sign and magnitude of the Gaussian curvature modulus that is in agreement with experimental measurements. Our results provide insight into how the interplay between membrane elasticity, geometrical frustration, and achiral symmetry breaking can be used to fold colloidal membranes into 3D shapes.

publication date

  • April 25, 2017