Chirality is ubiquitous in nature and plays crucial roles in biology, medicine, physics and materials science. Understanding and controlling chirality is therefore an important research challenge with broad implications. Unlike other chiral colloids, such as nanocellulose or filamentous viruses, amyloid fibrils form nematic phases but appear to miss their twisted form, the cholesteric or chiral nematic phases, despite a well-defined chirality at the single fibril level. Here we report the discovery of cholesteric phases in amyloids, using β-lactoglobulin fibrils shortened by shear stresses. The physical behaviour of these new cholesteric materials exhibits unprecedented structural complexity, with confinement-driven ordering transitions between at least three types of nematic and cholesteric tactoids. We use energy functional theory to rationalize these results and observe a chirality inversion from the left-handed amyloids to right-handed cholesteric droplets. These findings deepen our understanding of cholesteric phases, advancing their use in soft nanotechnology, nanomaterial templating and self-assembly.
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We acknowledge support from the Scientific Center for Optical and Electron Microscopy of ETH Zurich (ScopeM). S. Handschin and T. Schwarz are acknowledged for help with the sample rotation stage for polarized optical microscopy and the laser scanning confocal microscopy, respectively. S. Assenza and C. de Michele are acknowledged for discussions.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Supplementary discussion, Supplementary Figures 1–5, captions for Supplementary Videos 1–4.
Rotation of a cholesteric tactoid around an axis parallel to the observation plane and passing through the poles of the apparent spindle-like droplet.
Coalescence of two nematic tactoids and their transition into one cholesteric tactoid.
Right-handed rotation of a cholesteric tactoid.
Right-handed rotation of a right-handed rod helix.
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Nyström, G., Arcari, M. & Mezzenga, R. Confinement-induced liquid crystalline transitions in amyloid fibril cholesteric tactoids. Nature Nanotech 13, 330–336 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41565-018-0071-9
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