Volume 84, Number 4, November 2008
Article Number 46002
Number of page(s) 6
Section Condensed Matter: Structural, Mechanical and Thermal Properties
Published online 12 November 2008
EPL, 84 (2008) 46002
DOI: 10.1209/0295-5075/84/46002

Local structure and dynamics in colloidal fluids and gels

Takehiro Ohtsuka1, C. Patrick Royall1, 2 and Hajime Tanaka1

1   Institute of Industrial Science, University of Tokyo - Meguro-ku, Tokyo 153-8505, Japan
2   School of Chemistry, University of Bristol - Bristol BS8 1TS, UK, EU

received 30 July 2008; accepted in final form 7 October 2008; published November 2008
published online 12 November 2008

Gels in soft-matter systems are an important nonergodic state of matter. We study a colloid-polymer mixture which is quenched by increasing the polymer concentration, from a fluid to a gel. Using confocal microscopy, we study both the static structure and dynamics in three dimensions (3D). Between the dynamically arrested gel and ergodic fluid comprised of isolated particles we find an intermediate “cluster fluid” state, where the “bonds” between the colloidal particles have a finite lifetime. The local dynamics are reminiscent of a fluid, while the local structure is almost identical to that of the gel. Simultaneous real-time local structural analysis and particle tracking in 3D at the single-particle level yields the following interesting information. Particles in the clusters move in a highly correlated manner, but, at the same time, exhibit significant dynamical heterogeneity, reflecting the enhanced mobility near the free surface. Deeper quenching eventually leads to a gel state where the “bond” lifetime exceeds that of the experiment, although the local structure is almost identical to that of the “cluster fluid”.

64.75.Xc - Phase separation and segregation in colloidal systems.
82.70.Dd - Colloids.
82.70.Gg - Gels and sols.

© EPLA 2008