Nonequilibrium continuous phase transition in colloidal gelation with short-range attraction

Joep Rouwhorst, Christopher Ness, Simeon Stoyanov, Alessio Zaccone, Peter Schall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The dynamical arrest of attractive colloidal particles into out-of-equilibrium structures, known as gelation, is central to biophysics, materials science, nanotechnology, and food and cosmetic applications, but a complete understanding is lacking. In particular, for intermediate particle density and attraction, the structure formation process remains unclear. Here, we show that the gelation of short-range attractive particles is governed by a nonequilibrium percolation process. We combine experiments on critical Casimir colloidal suspensions, numerical simulations, and analytical modeling with a master kinetic equation to show that cluster sizes and correlation lengths diverge with exponents ~1.6 and 0.8, respectively, consistent with percolation theory, while detailed balance in the particle attachment and detachment processes is broken. Cluster masses exhibit power-law distributions with exponents −3/2 and −5/2 before and after percolation, as predicted by solutions to the master kinetic equation. These results revealing a nonequilibrium continuous phase transition unify the structural arrest and yielding into related frameworks.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3558
JournalNature Communications
Volume11
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jul 2020

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