When a liquid crystal forming particles are confined to a spatial volume with dimensions comparable to that of their own size, they face a complex trade-off between their global tendency to align and the local constraints imposed by the boundary conditions. This interplay may lead to a non-trivial orientational patterns that strongly depend on the geometry of the confining volume. This novel regime of liquid crystalline behavior can be probed with colloidal particles that are macro-aggregates of biomolecules. Here we study director fields of filamentous fd-viruses in quasi-2D lens-shaped chambers that mimic the shape of tactoids, the nematic droplets that form during isotropic-nematic phase separation. By varying the size and aspect ratio of the chambers we force these particles into confinements that vary from circular to extremely spindle-like shapes and observe the director field using fluorescence microscopy. In the resulting phase diagram, next to configurations predicted earlier for 3D tactoids, we find a number of novel configurations. Using Monte Carlo Simulations, we show that these novel states are metastable, yet long-lived. Their multiplicity can be explained by the co-existence of multiple dynamic relaxation pathways leading to the final stable states.

Sci. Rep.
Theory of Biomolecular Matter

Gârlea, I.C, Dammone, O.J, Alvarado, J, Notenboom, V, Jia, Y, Koenderink, G.H, … Mulder, B.M. (2019). Colloidal Liquid Crystals Confined to Synthetic Tactoids. Sci. Rep., 9(1), 20391: 1–20391:11. doi:10.1038/s41598-019-56729-9