A simple two-dimensional model system to study electrostatic-self-assembly
This paper surveys the variables controlling the lattice structure and charge in macroscopic Coulombic crystals made from electrically charged, millimeter-sized polymer objects (spheres, cubes, and cylinders). Mechanical agitation of these objects inside planar, bounded containers caused them to charge electrically through contact electrification, and to self-assemble. The processes of electrification and self-assembly, and the characteristics of the assemblies, depended on the type of motion used for agitation, on the type of materials used for the objects and the dish, on the size and shape of the objects and the dish, and on the number of objects. Each of the three different materials in the system (of the dish and of the two types of spheres) influenced the electrification. Three classes of structures formed by self-assembly, depending on the experimental conditions: two-dimensional lattices, one-dimensional chains, and zero-dimensional 'rosettes'. The lattices were characterized by their structure (disordered, square, rhombic, or hexagonal) and by the electrical charges of individual objects; the whole lattices were approximately electrically neutral. The lattices observed in this study were qualitatively different from ionic crystals; the charge of objects had practically continuous values which changed during agitation and self-assembly, and depended on experimental conditions which included the lattice structure itself. The relationship between charge and structure led to the coexistence of regions with different lattice structures within the same assembly, and to transformations between different lattice structures during agitation.