Limited-valency colloidal particles can self-assemble into polymeric structures analogous to molecules. While their structural equilibrium properties have attracted wide attention, insight into their dynamics has proven challenging. Here, we investigate the polymerization dynamics of semiflexible polymers in 2D by direct observation of assembling divalent particles, bonded by critical Casimir forces. The reversible critical Casimir force creates living polymerization conditions with tunable chain dissociation, association, and bending rigidity. We find that unlike dilute polymers that show exponential size distributions in excellent agreement with Flory theory, concentrated samples exhibit arrest of rotational and translational diffusion due to a continuous isotropic-to-nematic transition in 2D, slowing down the growth kinetics. These effects are circumvented by the addition of higher-valency particles, cross linking the polymers into networks. Our results connecting polymer flexibility, polymer interactions, and the peculiar isotropic-nematic transition in 2D offer insight into the polymerization processes of synthetic two-dimensional polymers and biopolymers at membranes and interfaces.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Physics and Astronomy(all)