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Light-responsive active particles in a thermotropic liquid crystal

Antonio Tavera-V\'azquezAndr\'es C\'ordobaSam RubinJuan J. de Pablo
Feb 2024
The development of synthetic microswimmers has advanced our understanding of the fundamental self-propelled mechanisms of living systems. However, there are scarce studies at the microscale within highly structured anisotropic media, such as bacteria or cellular receptors that swim in concentrated solutions of filamentous proteins or lipids with viscoelastic properties. Synthetic liquid crystals (LCs) have the potential to serve as biomimetic surrogates to study the structure and dynamics of living systems. Nevertheless, studies on thermotropic LCs have mainly focused on electro and magneto-phoretic effects, with a few others on diffusiophoresis or light-driven distortions of the LC nematic director. To the best of our knowledge, here we report self-thermophoretic experiments on thermotropic LCs for the first time. Our system consists of 2D confined Janus particles in 5CB with homeotropic anchoring on the particle and LC cell surfaces. The Janus particles include a conductive titanium coating that, upon exposure to an LED source, is heated and induces a local steady nematic-isotropic phase transition, leading to the self-propulsion of the particles orthogonally to the LC director. The trajectories of the Janus particles were tracked at different intensities of the applied light. A model is developed to describe the mean-squared displacement of a Janus particle suspended in a nematic LC. The model assumes that the Janus particle feels the LC as a continuum with the anisotropic viscosity of the bulk nematic phase. Moreover, the viscoelasticity of the LC is also considered. The model describes the experimental data well, and the fitting parameter related to the magnitude of the swimming force increases with the intensity of the applied light. Our approach suggests the possibility of utilizing Janus particles for microrheological measurements within nematic LCs.
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