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Coupling of isotropic and directional interactions and its effect on phase separation and self-assembly



Debra J. Audus, Francis W. Starr, Jack F. Douglas


The interactions of molecules and particles in solution often involve an interplay between isotropic and highly directional interactions that lead to a mutual coupling of phase separation and self-assembly. This situation arises, for example, in proteins interacting through hydrophobic and charged patch regions on their surface and in nanoparticles with grafted polymer chains, such as DNA. As a minimal model of complex fluids exhibiting this interaction coupling, we investigate spherical particles having an isotropic interaction and a constellation of five attractive patches on the particle’s surface. Monte Carlo simulations and mean-field calculations of the phase boundaries of this model depend strongly on the relative strength of the isotropic and patch potentials, where we surprisingly find that analytic mean-field predictions become increasingly accurate as the directional interactions become increasingly predominant. We quantitatively account for this effect by noting that the effective interaction range increases with increasing relative directional to isotropic interaction strength. We also identify thermodynamic transition lines associated with self-assembly, extract the entropy and energy of association, and characterize the resulting cluster properties obtained from simulations using percolation scaling theory and Flory-Stockmayer mean-fieldtheory. We find that the fractal dimension and cluster size distribution are consistent with those of lattice animals, i.e., randomly branched polymers swollen by excluded volume interactions. We also identify a universal functional form for the average molecular weight and a nearly universal functional form for a scaling parameter characterizing the cluster size distribution. Since the formation of branched clusters at equilibrium is a common phenomenon in nature, we detail how our analysis can be used in experimental characterization of such associating fluids.
Journal of Chemical Physics


phase separation, self-assembly, patchy particles


Audus, D. , Starr, F. and Douglas, J. (2016), Coupling of isotropic and directional interactions and its effect on phase separation and self-assembly, Journal of Chemical Physics, [online], (Accessed June 14, 2024)


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Created February 16, 2016, Updated November 10, 2018