Gelation of Lyotropic Liquid-Crystal Phases—The Interplay between Liquid Crystalline Order and Physical Gel Formation
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Langmuir (2019)

We present a systematical investigation of gelled lyotropic liquid crystals (LLCs). This new class of soft materials combines the anisotropy of LLCs with the mechanical stability of a physical gel. The studied LLC system consists of sodium dodecyl sulfate as a surfactant, n-decanol as a cosurfactant, and water as a solvent. At room temperature, four liquid crystalline phases (lamellar Lα, nematic Nd and Nc, and hexagonal H1) are formed depending on the composition. We were successful in gelling the lyotropic lamellar phase with the low-molecular-weight organogelator 12-hydroxyoctadecanoic acid (12-HOA). The obtained gelled lamellar phase shows optical birefringence, elastic response, and no macroscopic flow. However, we were not able to obtain gels with hexagonal or nematic structure. These findings can be explained twofold. When gelling the hexagonal phase, the long-range hexagonal order was destroyed and an isotropic gel was formed. The reason might be the incompatibility between the gel fiber network and the two-dimensional long-range translational order of the cylindrical micelles in the hexagonal phase. Otherwise, the lyotropic nematic phase was transformed into an anisotropic gel with the lamellar structure during gelation. Evidently, the addition of the gelator 12-HOA to the lyotropic system considerably widens the lamellar regime because the integration of the surface-active 12-HOA gelator molecules into the nematic micelles flattens out the micelle curvature. We further investigated the successfully gelated Lα phase to examine the impacts of the gel network and the remaining monomeric gelator on both the structure and properties of the gelled lamellar phase. Small-angle X-ray scattering results showed an arrested lamellar layer spacing in the gelled state, which indicates a higher translational order for the gelled lamellar phases in comparison with their gelator-free counterparts.
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