Crystallization mechanisms in convective particle assembly

Colloidal particles are continuously assembled into crystalline particle coatings using convective fluid flows. Assembly takes place inside a meniscus on a wetting reservoir. The shape of the meniscus defines the profile of the convective flow and the motion of the particles. We use optical interference microscopy, particle image velocimetry and particle tracking to analyze the particles? trajectory from the liquid reservoir to the film growth front and inside the deposited film as a function of temperature. Our results indicate a transition from assembly at a static film growth front at high deposition temperatures to assembly in a precursor film with high particle mobility at low deposition temperatures. A simple model that compares the convective drag on the particles to the thermal agitation explains this behavior. Convective assembly mechanisms exhibit a pronounced temperature dependency and require a temperature that provides sufficient evaporation. Capillary mechanisms are nearly temperature independent and govern assembly at lower temperatures. The model fits the experimental data with temperature and particle size as variable parameters and allows prediction of the transition temperatures. While the two mechanisms are markedly different, dried particle films from both assembly regimes exhibit hexagonal particle packings. We show that films assembled by convective mechanisms exhibit greater regularity than those assembled by capillary mechanisms.