Isotropic-nematic phase transition of nonaqueous suspensions of natural clay rods

Z. X. Zhang, Jeroen S. Van Duijneveldt*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Citations (Scopus)


A novel model system for studying the behavior of hard colloidal rods is presented, consisting of sterically stabilized particles of natural sepiolite clay. Electron microscopy and scattering results confirmed that the organophilic clay particles were individual, rigid rods when dispersed in organic solvents. With a length-to-diameter ratio of approximately 27, the particles showed nematic ordering for volume fractions φ>0.06. Polarizing microscopy revealed that the phase separation process involved nucleation, growth, and coalescence of nematic domains. The phase volumes and particle concentrations in the coexisting phases were determined. The dependence of these quantities on the total concentration of the suspension agrees well with Onsager's [Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci. 51, 627 (1949)] isotropic-nematic phase transition theory extended to bidisperse and polydisperse rod systems, and with previous experimental results for rigid rodlike particles. Particle size distributions were obtained by analyzing transmission electron microscopy images. A significant fractionation with respect to rod length (but not diameter) was observed in the coexisting isotropic and nematic phases. The relative polydispersity of both daughter phases was distinctly smaller than that of the parent suspension. The phase behavior of these daughter fractions agrees well with the predictions for hard spherocylinders of corresponding aspect ratios. An isotropic-nematic- nematic phase equilibrium was seen to develop in phase separated samples after 1 month standing and is ascribed to the effect of polydispersity and possibly gravity. The second nematic phase appearing is dominated by very long rods.

Original languageEnglish
Article number154910
JournalJournal of Chemical Physics
Issue number15
Publication statusPublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes


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