The natural arrangement of atoms or nanocrystals either in well-defined assemblies or in a disordered fashion induces changes in their physical properties. For example, diamond and graphite show marked differences in their physical properties though both are composed of carbon atoms. Natural colloidal crystals have existed on earth for billions of years. Very interestingly, these colloidal crystals are made of a fixed number of polyhedral magnetite particles uniform in size. Hence, opals formed of assemblies of silicate particles in the micrometer size range exhibit interesting intrinsic optical properties. A colorless opal is composed of disordered particles, but changes in size segregation within the self-ordered silica particles can lead to distinct color changes and patterning. In this Account, we rationalize two simultaneous supracrystal growth processes that occur under saturated conditions, which form both well-defined 3D superlattices at the air!liquid interface and precipitated 3D assemblies with well-defined shapes. The growth processes of these colloidal crystals, called super- or supracrystals, markedly change the mechanical properties of these assemblies and induce the crystallinity segregation of nanocrystals. Therefore, single domain nanocrystals are the primary basis in the formation of these supracrystals, while multiply twinned particles (MTPs) and polycrystals remain dispersed within the colloidal suspension. Nanoindentation measurements show a drop in the Young’s moduli for interfacial supracrystals in comparison with the precipitated supracrystals. In addition, the value of the Young’s modulus changes markedly with the supracrystal growth mechanism. Using scanning tunneling microscopy/spectroscopy, we successfully imaged very thick supracrystals (from 200 nm up to a few micrometers) with remarkable conductance homogeneity and showed electronic fingerprints of isolated nanocrystals. This discovery of nanocrystal fingerprints within supracrystals could lead to promising applications in nanotechnology.
Source : Supra and Nano crystallinity : Specific properties related to crystal growth mechanisms and nanocrystallinity. M.P.Pileni, Account Chem Res., 2012,45, 1965-1972.