Patchy particles made by colloidal fusion
Patches on the surfaces of colloidal particles1,2,3,4,5provide directional information that enables the self-assembly of the particles into higher-order structures. Although computational tools can make quantitative predictions and can generate design rules that link the patch motif of a particle to its internal microstructure and to the emergent properties of the self-assembled materials6,7,8, the experimental realization of model systems of particles with surface patches (or ‘patchy’ particles) remains a challenge. Synthetic patchy colloidal particles are often poor geometric approximations of the digital building blocks used in simulations9,10and can only rarely be manufactured in sufficiently high yields to be routinely used as experimental model systems11,12,13,14. Here we introduce a method, which we refer to as colloidal fusion, for fabricating functional patchy particles in a tunable and scalable manner. Using coordination dynamics and wetting forces, we engineer hybrid liquid-solid clusters that evolve into particles with a range of patchy surface morphologies on addition of a plasticizer. We are able to predict and control the evolutionary pathway by considering surface-energy minimization, leading to two main branches of product: first, spherical particles with liquid surface patches, capable of forming curable bonds with neighbouring particles to assemble robust supracolloidal structures; and second, particles with a faceted liquid compartment, which can be cured and purified to yield colloidal polyhedra. These findings outline a scalable strategy for the synthesis of patchy particles, first by designing their surface patterns by computer simulation, and then by recreating them in the laboratory with high fidelity.