Elastic Instability of a Crystal Growing on a Curved Surface

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Science  07 Feb 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6171, pp. 634-637
DOI: 10.1126/science.1244827

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Curving Crystals

When a material with a different set of lattice parameters is grown on the surface of a crystal of a second material, the stresses at the interface can affect the growing crystal. Meng et al. (p. 634) studied the growth of colloidal crystals on top of a curved water droplet. Owing to the elastic stress caused by the bending of the crystal, strong distortions occurred in the growing crystal, but, nonetheless, large single-crystalline domains with no topological defects were formed.


Although the effects of kinetics on crystal growth are well understood, the role of substrate curvature is not yet established. We studied rigid, two-dimensional colloidal crystals growing on spherical droplets to understand how the elastic stress induced by Gaussian curvature affects the growth pathway. In contrast to crystals grown on flat surfaces or compliant crystals on droplets, these crystals formed branched, ribbon-like domains with large voids and no topological defects. We show that this morphology minimizes the curvature-induced elastic energy. Our results illustrate the effects of curvature on the ubiquitous process of crystallization, with practical implications for nanoscale disorder-order transitions on curved manifolds, including the assembly of viral capsids, phase separation on vesicles, and crystallization of tetrahedra in three dimensions.

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