Reconfigurable self-assembly through chiral control of interfacial tension
Zakhary, Mark J.
Hagan, Michael F.
Meyer, Robert B.
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From determining optical properties of simple molecular crystals to establishing preferred handedness in highly complex vertebrates, molecular chirality profoundly influences the structural, mechanical, and optical properties of both synthetic and biological matter at macroscopic lengthscales1,2. In soft materials such as amphiphilic lipids and liquid crystals, the competition between local chiral interactions and global constraints imposed by the geometry of the self-assembled structures leads to frustration and the assembly of unique materials3-6. An example of particular interest is smectic liquid crystals, where the 2D layered geometry cannot support twist, expelling chirality to the edges in a manner analogous to the expulsion of a magnetic field from superconductors7-10. Here, we demonstrate a previously unexplored consequence of this geometric frustration which leads to a new design principle for the assembly of chiral molecules. Using a model system of colloidal membranes11, we show that molecular chirality can control the interfacial tension, an important property of multi-component mixtures. This finding suggests an analogy between chiral twist which is expelled to the edge of 2D membranes, and amphiphilic surfactants which are expelled to oil-water interfaces12. Similar to surfactants, chiral control of interfacial tension drives the assembly of myriad polymorphic assemblages such as twisted ribbons with linear and circular topologies, starfish membranes, and double and triple helices. Tuning molecular chirality in situ enables dynamical control of line tension that powers polymorphic transitions between various chiral structures. These findings outline a general strategy for the assembly of reconfigurable chiral materials which can easily be moved, stretched, attached to one another, and transformed between multiple conformational states, thus enabling precise assembly and nano-sculpting of highly dynamical and designable materials with complex topologies.
Author Posting. © The Author(s), 2011. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of Nature Publishing Group for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Nature 481 (2012): 348–351, doi:10.1038/nature10769.