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May 11, 2015

Researchers examine polymers and larger colloidal crystals at various temperatures

Microscopic particles that bind under low temperatures (blue, bottom left) will melt as temperatures rise to moderate levels (green, center), but reconnect under hotter conditions (red, top right), a team of New York University (NYU) scientists found. Their discovery points to new ways to create "smart materials"--cutting-edge materials that adapt to their environment by taking new forms--and to sharpen the detail of 3-D printing.

The research study focused on polymers and colloids--particles as small as 1-billionth and 1-millionth of a meter in size, respectively.

These materials, and how they form, are of notable interest to scientists because they are the basis for an array of consumer products. For instance, colloidal dispersions comprise such everyday items as paint, milk, gelatin, glass, and porcelain, and are used in advanced engineering such as steering light in photonics. By better understanding polymer and colloidal formation, scientists have the potential to harness these particles and create new and enhanced materials--possibilities that are now largely untapped or are in relatively rudimentary form.

"These findings show the potential to engineer the properties of materials using not only temperature, but also by employing a range of methods to manipulate the smallest of particles," explains Lang Feng, the studys lead author and an NYU doctoral student at the time it was conducted.

This work was supported in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation (DMR 08-20341) through the Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers program.

To learn more, see the NYU news story Goldilocks principle wrong for particle assembly: Too hot and too cold is just right.. (Date of Image: October 2014)

Credit: Image courtesy of Lang Feng

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