Colloidal Gelation through Thermally Triggered Surfactant Displacement

Colloidal systems that undergo gelation attract much attention in both fundamental studies and practical applications. Rational tuning of interparticle interactions allows researchers to precisely engineer colloidal material properties and microstructures. Here, contrary to the traditional approaches where modulating attractive interactions is the major focus, we present a platform wherein colloidal gelation is controlled by tuning repulsive interactions. By including amphiphilic oligomers in colloidal suspensions, the ionic surfactants on the colloids are replaced by the nonionic oligomer surfactants at elevated temperatures, leading to a decrease in electrostatic repulsion. The mechanism is examined by carefully characterizing the colloids, and subsequently allowing the construction of interparticle potentials to capture the material behaviors. With the thermally triggered surfactant displacement, the dispersion assembles into a macroporous viscoelastic network and the gelling mechanism is robust over a wide range of compositions, colloid sizes, and component chemistries. This stimulus-responsive gelation platform is general and offers new strategies to engineer complex viscoelastic soft materials.