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Monday, October 8, 2012

Fractionalization of interstitials in curved colloidal crystals

William T. M. Irvine, Mark J. Bowick & Paul M. Chaikin

Understanding the effect of curvature and topological frustration in crystals yields insights into the fragility of the ordered state. For instance, a one-dimensional crystal of identical charged particles can accommodate an extra particle (interstitial) if all the particle positions are readjusted, yet in a planar hexagonal crystal interstitials remain trapped between lattice sites and diffuse by hopping. Using optical tweezers operated independently of three-dimensional imaging, we inserted interstitials in a lattice of similar colloidal particles sitting on flat or curved oil/glycerol interfaces, and imaged the ensuing dynamics. We find that, unlike in flat space, the curved crystals self-heal through a collective particle rearrangement that redistributes the increased density associated with the interstitial. This process can be interpreted in terms of the out-of-equilibrium interaction of topological defects with each other and with the underlying curvature. Our observations suggest the existence of particle fractionalization on curved surface crystals.
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