Universal Gelation of Metal Oxide Nanocrystals via Depletion Attractions

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Saez Cabezas, Camila A.
Sherman, Zachary M.
Howard, Michael P.
Dominguez, Manuel N.
Cho, Shin Hum
Ong, Gary K.
Green, Allison
Truskett, Thomas M.
Milliron, Delia J.

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Nanocrystal gelation provides a powerful framework to translate nanoscale properties into bulk materials and to engineer emergent properties through the assembled microstructure. However, many established gelation strategies rely on chemical reactions and specific interactions, e.g., stabilizing ligands or ions on the nanocrystals’ surfaces, and are therefore not easily transferrable. Here, we report a general gelation strategy via non-specific and purely entropic depletion attractions applied to three types of metal oxide nanocrystals. The gelation thresholds of two compositionally distinct spherical nanocrystals agree quantitatively, demonstrating the adaptability of the approach for different chemistries. Consistent with theoretical phase behavior predictions, nanocrystal cubes form gels at a lower polymer concentration than nanocrystal spheres, allowing shape to serve as a handle to control gelation. These results suggest that the fundamental underpinnings of depletion-driven assembly, traditionally associated with larger colloidal particles, are also applicable at the nanoscale.


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