Field-Driven Reversible Alignment and Gelation of Magneto-Responsive Soft Anisotropic Microbeads

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Magnetic fields offer untethered control over the assembly, dynamics, and reconfiguration of colloidal particles. However, synthesizing "soft" colloidal particles with switchable magnetic dipole moment remains a challenge, primarily due to strong coupling of the dipoles of the adjacent nanoparticles. In this article, we present a way to overcome this fundamental challenge based on a strategy to synthesize soft microbeads with tunable residual dipole moment. The microbeads are composed of a polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) matrix with internally embedded magnetic nanoparticles (MNPs). The distribution and orientation of the MNPs within the PDMS bead matrix is controlled by an external magnetic field during the synthesis process, thus allowing for the preparation of anisotropic PDMS microbeads with internal magnetically aligned nanoparticle chains. We study and present the differences in magnetic interactions between microbeads containing magnetically aligned MNPs and microbeads with randomly distributed MNPs. The interparticle interactions in a suspension of microbeads with embedded aligned MNP chains result in the spontaneous formation of percolated networks due to residual magnetization. We proved the tunability of the structure by applying magnetization, demagnetization, and remagnetization cycles that evoke formation, breakup, and reformation of 2D percolated networks. The mechanical response of the microbead suspension was quantified by oscillatory rheology and correlated to the propensity for network formation by the magnetic microbeads. We also experimentally correlated the 2D alignment of the microbeads to the direction of earth's magnetic field. Overall, the results prove that the soft magnetic microbeads enable a rich variety of structures and can serve as an experimental toolbox for modeling interactions in dipolar systems leading to various percolated networks, novel magneto-rheological materials, and smart gels.

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The journal of physical chemistry. B

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