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Direction-specific van der Waals attraction between rutile TiO2 nanocrystals

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Science  28 Apr 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6336, pp. 434-437
DOI: 10.1126/science.aah6902

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When forces depend on orientation

In oriented attachment, small nuclei or crystals come together to make a larger crystal, but only when complementary facets approach each other. Does this mean that there is an orientational dependence of the force between two nanocrystals? Zhang et al. report a delicate method to measure the van der Waals attraction between rutile TiO2 nanocrystals. They imaged the contact point in situ with environmental transmission electron microscopy, which allowed the interparticle distances to be measured accurately. This elucidated the relationship between the nanocrystals' orientations, surface hydrations, and interactions. The results suggest that there is enough force to generate a torque between the crystals to ensure a complementary interaction.

Science, this issue p. 434

Abstract

Mutual lattice orientations dictate the types and magnitudes of forces between crystalline particles. When lattice polarizability is anisotropic, the van der Waals dispersion attraction can, in principle, contribute to this direction dependence. We report measurement of this attraction between rutile nanocrystals, as a function of their mutual orientation and surface hydration extent. At tens of nanometers of separation, the attraction is weak and shows no dependence on azimuthal alignment or surface hydration. At separations of approximately one hydration layer, the attraction is strongly dependent on azimuthal alignment and systematically decreases as intervening water density increases. Measured forces closely agree with predictions from Lifshitz theory and show that dispersion forces can generate a torque between particles interacting in solution and between grains in materials.

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