The role of long-range forces in the phase behavior of colloids and proteins
The phase behavior of colloid-polymer mixtures, and of solutions of globular proteins, is often interpreted in terms of a simple model of hard spheres with short-ranged attraction. While such a model yields a qualitative understanding of the generic phase diagrams of both colloids and proteins, it fails to capture one important difference: the model predicts fluid-fluid phase separation in the metastable regime below the freezing curve. Such demixing has been observed for globular proteins, but for colloids it appears to be pre-empted by the appearance of a gel. In this paper, we study the effect of additional long-range attractions on the phase behavior of spheres with short-ranged attraction. We find that such attractions can shift the (metastable) fluid-fluid critical point out of the gel region. As this metastable critical point may be important for crystal nucleation, our results suggest that long-ranged attractive forces may play an important role in the crystallization of globular proteins. However, in colloids, where refractive index matching is often used to switch off long-ranged dispersion forces, gelation is likely to inhibit phase separation.
Noro, M. G, Kern, N, & Frenkel, D. (1999). The role of long-range forces in the phase behavior of colloids and proteins. Europhys. Lett., 48, 332–338.