American Chemical Society
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Controlling Kinetic Pathways in Demixing Microgel–Micelle Mixtures

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-01-09, 11:33 authored by S. L. Fussell, C. P. Royall, J. S. van Duijneveldt
We investigate the temperature-dependent phase behavior of mixtures of poly­(N-isopropyl­acrylamide) (pNIPAM) microgel colloids and a triblock copolymer (PEO–PPO–PEO) surfactant. Usually, gelation in these systems results from an increase in temperature. Here we investigate the role of the heating rate, and surprisingly, we find that this causes the mechanism of aggregation to change from one which is driven by depletion of the microgels by the micelles at low temperatures to the association of the two species at high temperatures. We thus reveal two competing mechanisms for attractions between the microgel particles which can be controlled by changing the heating rate. We use this heating-rate-dependent response of the system to access multiple structures for the same system composition. Samples were found to demix into phases rich and poor in microgel particles at temperatures below 33 °C, under conditions where the microgels particles are partially swollen. Under rapid heating full demixing is bypassed, and gel networks are formed instead. The temperature history of the sample, therefore, allows for kinetic selection between different final structures, which may be metastable.