Particle analogs of electrons in colloidal crystals

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Science  21 Jun 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6446, pp. 1174-1178
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw8237

Mobile particles in colloidal crystals

The crystallization of nanoparticles can be controlled by functionalizing them with DNA strands that direct assembly through hybridization. The design rules for interactions between pairs of particles resemble those for ionic compounds. Inspired by molecular dynamics simulations, Girard et al. show that larger particles (∼10 nanometers in diameter) that have mutual repulsive interactions can form a stable lattice only if much smaller conjugate particles (∼1.5 nanometers in diameter) are present. These smaller particles are mobile and diffuse through the lattice, so the bonding interaction resembles the classical picture of electrons in metals.

Science, this issue p. 1174


A versatile method for the design of colloidal crystals involves the use of DNA as a particle-directing ligand. With such systems, DNA-nanoparticle conjugates are considered programmable atom equivalents (PAEs), and design rules have been devised to engineer crystallization outcomes. This work shows that when reduced in size and DNA grafting density, PAEs behave as electron equivalents (EEs), roaming through and stabilizing the lattices defined by larger PAEs, as electrons do in metals in the classical picture. This discovery defines a new property of colloidal crystals—metallicity—that is characterized by the extent of EE delocalization and diffusion. As the number of strands increases or the temperature decreases, the EEs localize, which is structurally reminiscent of a metal-insulator transition. Colloidal crystal metallicity, therefore, provides new routes to metallic, intermetallic, and compound phases.

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