New aspects in the phase behaviour of poly-N-isopropyl acrylamide:
systematic temperature dependent shrinking of PNiPAM assemblies well beyond the LCST
with Veronique Trappe (University of Fribourg)
We investigate the phase behaviour of aqueous dispersions of poly-N-isopropyl acrylamide (PNiPAM) microgels above their lower critical solution temperature (LCST) and find that beyond a well-defined concentration the systems exhibit a peculiar behaviour: the microgels assemble into space-spanning gels that shrink in time while maintaining the shape of the container in which they have been formed. Over a wide range of concentrations this shrinking behaviour is independent of PNiPAM concentration, but systematically depends on temperature in a temperature range significantly exceeding the LCST. The overall shrinking characteristics are consistent with those expected for scaffolds made of materials that exhibit thermal contraction. However, for the PNiPAM assemblies contraction is irreversible and can be as large as 90%. Such characteristics disclose complex interactions between fully collapsed PNiPAM and water well beyond the LCST, the origin of which has yet to be elucidated.
I. Bischofberger, V. Trappe, Sci. Rep. 5:15520 (2015)
Multiple dynamic regimes in concentrated microgel systems
with David Sessoms, Veronique Trappe (University of Fribourg),
and Luca Cipelletti (University of Montpellier, France)
We investigate dynamical heterogeneities in the collective relaxation of a concentrated microgel system, for which the packing fraction can be conveniently varied by changing the temperature. The packing fraction dependent mechanical properties are characterised by a fluid-solid transition, where the system properties switch from a viscous to an elastic low-frequency behavior. Approaching this transition from below, we find that the range of spatial correlations in the dynamics increases. Beyond this transition, the spatial correlation range reaches a maximum, extending over the entire observable system size of approximately 5 mm. Increasing the packing fraction even further leads to a second transition, which is characterized by the development of large zones of lower and higher dynamical activity that are well separated from each other; the range of correlation decreases at this point. This striking non-monotonic dependence of the spatial correlation length on volume fraction is reminiscent of the behavior recently observed at the jamming/rigidity transition in granular systems. We identify this second transition as the transition to 'squeezed' states, where the constituents of the system start to exert direct contact forces on each other, such that the dynamics becomes increasingly determined by imbalanced stresses. Evidence of this transition is also found in the frequency dependence of the storage and loss moduli, which become increasingly coupled as direct friction between the particles starts to contribute to the dissipative losses within the system. To our knowledge, our data provide the first observation of a qualitative change in dynamical heterogeneity as the dynamics switch from purely thermally-driven to stress-driven.
D. A. Sessoms, I. Bischofberger, L. Cipelletti, V. Trappe, Phil. Trans. Royal Society A 367, 5013 (2009)