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Magnetic assembly of colloidal superstructures with multipole symmetry


The assembly of complex structures out of simple colloidal building blocks is of practical interest for building materials with unique optical properties (for example photonic crystals1 and DNA biosensors2) and is of fundamental importance in improving our understanding of self-assembly processes occurring on molecular to macroscopic length scales3,4,5. Here we demonstrate a self-assembly principle that is capable of organizing a diverse set of colloidal particles into highly reproducible, rotationally symmetric arrangements. The structures are assembled using the magnetostatic interaction between effectively diamagnetic and paramagnetic particles within a magnetized ferrofluid. The resulting multipolar geometries resemble electrostatic charge configurations such as axial quadrupoles (‘Saturn rings’), axial octupoles (‘flowers’), linear quadrupoles (poles) and mixed multipole arrangements (‘two tone’), which represent just a few examples of the type of structure that can be built using this technique.

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Figure 1: Illustration of magnetic assembly in colloidal particle mixtures.
Figure 2: Assembly of ‘Saturn-rings’ particles and their statistical distribution.
Figure 3: Experimental phase diagrams and critical behaviour.
Figure 4: Demonstration of multi-component particle assembly.


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The authors would like to thank the US National Science Foundation (grants NSEC DMI-0531171 and MRSEC DMR-0213695 to V.M.R. and grants CMMI-0608819 and CMMI-0625480 to B.B.Y.) for supporting this work.

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Correspondence to Benjamin B. Yellen.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contain Supplementary Materials and Methods, Supplementary Figures 1-3 with Legends and Supplementary Video Legends 1-5. (PDF 503 kb)

Supplementary Movie 1

This file shows the synchronous rotation of Saturn particles in a rotating external field (see files s1 for full legend). (MOV 866 kb)

Supplementary Movie 2

This file shows the formation and dissolution of Saturn particles (see file s1 for full legend). (MOV 4013 kb)

Supplementary Movie 3

This file shows a tri-component aqueous suspension of colloidal particles (see file s1 for full legend). (MOV 453 kb)

Supplementary Movie 4

This file shows the formation of mixed pole/ring structures (see file s1 for full legend). (MOV 1988 kb)

Supplementary Movie 5

This file shows flower shaped colloidal particles (see file s1 for full legend). (MOV 2813 kb)

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Erb, R., Son, H., Samanta, B. et al. Magnetic assembly of colloidal superstructures with multipole symmetry. Nature 457, 999–1002 (2009).

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