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Structure formation and identification in geometrically driven soft matter systems

Hain, Tobias Martin (2022) Structure formation and identification in geometrically driven soft matter systems. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Abstract

Subdividing space through interfaces leads to many space partitions that are relevant to soft matter self-assembly. Prominent examples include cellular media, e.g. soap froths, which are bubbles of air separated by interfaces of soap and water, but also more complex partitions such as bicontinuous minimal surfaces.

Using computer simulations, this thesis analyses soft matter systems in terms of the relationship between the physical forces between the system’s constituents and the structure of the resulting interfaces or partitions. The focus is on two systems, copolymeric self-assembly and the so-called Quantizer problem, where the driving force of structure formation, the minimisation of the free-energy, is an interplay of surface area minimisation and stretching contributions, favouring cells of uniform thickness.

In the first part of the thesis we address copolymeric phase formation with sharp interfaces. We analyse a columnar copolymer system “forced” to assemble on a spherical surface, where the perfect solution, the hexagonal tiling, is topologically prohibited. For a system of three-armed copolymers, the resulting structure is described by solutions of the so-called Thomson problem, the search of minimal energy configurations of repelling charges on a sphere. We find three intertwined Thomson problem solutions on a single sphere, occurring at a probability depending on the radius of the substrate.

We then investigate the formation of amorphous and crystalline structures in the Quantizer system, a particulate model with an energy functional without surface tension that favours spherical cells of equal size. We find that quasi-static equilibrium cooling allows the Quantizer system to crystallise into a BCC ground state, whereas quenching and non-equilibrium cooling, i.e. cooling at slower rates then quenching, leads to an approximately hyperuniform, amorphous state. The assumed universality of the latter, i.e. independence of energy minimisation method or initial configuration, is strengthened by our results. We expand the Quantizer system by introducing interface tension, creating a model that we find to mimic polymeric micelle systems: An order-disorder phase transition is observed with a stable Frank-Caspar phase.

The second part considers bicontinuous partitions of space into two network-like domains, and introduces an open-source tool for the identification of structures in electron microscopy images. We expand a method of matching experimentally accessible projections with computed projections of potential structures, introduced by Deng and Mieczkowski (1998). The computed structures are modelled using nodal representations of constant-mean-curvature surfaces. A case study conducted on etioplast cell membranes in chloroplast precursors establishes the double Diamond surface structure to be dominant in these plant cells. We automate the matching process employing deep-learning methods, which manage to identify structures with excellent accuracy.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Mathematics, Statistics, Chemistry and Physics
Supervisor(s): Schroder-Turk, Gerd and Gardiner, Bruce
URI: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/65699
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