Many industries require irreversibly responsive materials for use as sensors or detectors of environmental exposure. We describe the synthesis and fabrication of a nontoxic surface coating that reports oxygen exposure of the substrate material through irreversible formation of colored spots. The coating consists of a selectively permeable rubber film that contains the colorless organic precursors to darkly pigmented synthetic melanin. Melanin synthesis within the film is triggered by exposure to molecular oxygen. The selectively permeable rubber film regulates the rate of oxygen diffusion, enabling independent control of the sensitivity and response time of the artificial melanosome, while preventing leaching of melanin or its precursors.
Although common in biological systems, synthetic self-assembly routes to complex 3D photonic structures with tailored degrees of disorder remain elusive. Here we show how liquids can be used to finely control disorder in porous 3D photonic crystals, leading to complex and hierarchical geometries. In these optofluidic crystals, dynamically tunable disorder is superimposed onto the periodic optical structure through partial wetting or evaporation. In both cases, macroscopic symmetry breaking is driven by subtle sub-wavelength variations in the pore geometry. These variations direct site-selective infiltration of liquids through capillary interactions. Incorporating cross-linkable resins into our liquids, we developed methods to freeze in place the filling patterns at arbitrary degrees of partial wetting and intermediate stages of drying. These percolation lithography techniques produced permanent photonic structures with adjustable disorder. By coupling strong changes in optical properties to subtle differences in fluid behavior, optofluidic crystals may also prove useful in rapid analysis of liquids.
Materials in nature are characterized by structural order over multiple length scales have evolved for maximum performance and multifunctionality, and are often produced by self-assembly processes. A striking example of this design principle is structural coloration, where interference, diffraction, and absorption effects result in vivid colors. Mimicking this emergence of complex effects from simple building blocks is a key challenge for man-made materials. Here, we show that a simple confined self-assembly process leads to a complex hierarchical geometry that displays a variety of optical effects. Colloidal crystallization in an emulsion droplet creates micron-sized superstructures, termed photonic balls. The curvature imposed by the emulsion droplet leads to frustrated crystallization. We observe spherical colloidal crystals with ordered, crystalline layers and a disordered core. This geometry produces multiple optical effects. The ordered layers give rise to structural color from Bragg diffraction with limited angular dependence and unusual transmission due to the curved nature of the individual crystals. The disordered core contributes nonresonant scattering that induces a macroscopically whitish appearance, which we mitigate by incorporating absorbing gold nanoparticles that suppress scattering and macroscopically purify the color. With increasing size of the constituent colloidal particles, grating diffraction effects dominate, which result from order along the crystal’s curved surface and induce a vivid polychromatic appearance. The control of multiple optical effects induced by the hierarchical morphology in photonic balls paves the way to use them as building blocks for complex optical assemblies—potentially as more efficient mimics of structural color as it occurs in nature.
Porous materials display interesting transport phenomena due to restricted motion of fluids within the nano- to microscale voids. Here, we investigate how liquid wetting in highly ordered inverse opals is affected by anisotropy in pore geometry. We compare samples with different degrees of pore asphericity and find different wetting patterns depending on the pore shape. Highly anisotropic structures are infiltrated more easily than their isotropic counterparts. Further, the wetting of anisotropic inverse opals is directional, with liquids filling from the side more easily. This effect is supported by percolation simulations as well as direct observations of wetting using time-resolved optical microscopy.
We present a simple one-pot co-assembly method for the synthesis of hierarchically structured pigment particles consisting of silica inverse-opal bricks that are doped with plasmonic absorbers. We study the interplay between the plasmonic and photonic resonances and their effect on the visual appearance of macroscopic collections of photonic bricks that are distributed in randomized orientations. Manipulating the pore geometry tunes the wavelength- and angle-dependence of the scattering profile, which can be engineered to produce angle-dependent Bragg resonances that can either enhance or contrast with the color produced by the plasmonic absorber. By controlling the overall dimensions of the photonic bricks and their aspect ratios, their preferential alignment can either be encouraged or suppressed. This causes the Bragg resonance to appear either as uniform color travel in the former case or as sparse iridescent sparkle in the latter case. By manipulating the surface chemistry of these photonic bricks, which introduces a fourth length-scale (molecular) of independent tuning into our design, we can further engineer interactions between liquids and the pores. This allows the structural color to be maintained in oil-based formulations, and enables the creation of dynamic liquid-responsive images from the pigment.
Crack-free inverse opals exhibit a sharply defined threshold wettability for infiltration that has enabled their use as colourimetric indicators for liquid identification. Here we demonstrate direct and continuous photo-tuning of this wetting threshold in inverse opals whose surfaces are function- alized with a polymer doped with azobenzene chromophores.
We provide an overview of our recent advances in the manipulation of wetting in inverse-opal photonic crystals. Exploiting photonic crystals with spatially patterned surface chemistry to confine the infiltration of fluids to liquidspecific spatial patterns, we developed a highly selective scheme for colorimetry, where organic liquids are distinguished based on wetting. The high selectivity of wetting, upon-which the sensitivity of the response relies, and the bright iridescent color, which disappears when the pores are filled with liquid, are both a result of the highly symmetric pore structure of our inverse-opal films. The application of horizontally or vertically orientated gradients in the surface chemistry allows a unique response to be tailored to specific liquids. While the generic nature of wetting makes our approach to colorimetry suitable for applications in liquid authentication or identification across a broad range of industries, it also ensures chemical non-specificity. However, we show that chemical specificity can be achieved combinatorially using an array of indicators that each exploits different chemical gradients to cover the same dynamic range of response. Finally, incorporating a photo-responsive polyelectrolyte surface layer into the pores, we are able to dynamically and continuously photo-tune the wetting response, even while the film is immersed in liquid. This in situ optical control of liquid percolation in our photonic-crystal films may also provide an error-free means to tailor indicator response, naturally compensating for batch-to-batch variability in the pore geometry.
Structural hierarchy and complex 3D architecture are characteristics of biological photonic designs that are challenging to reproduce in synthetic materials. Top–down lithography allows for designer patterning of arbitrary shapes, but is largely restricted to planar 2D structures. Self-assembly techniques facilitate easy fabrication of 3D photonic crystals, but controllable defect-integration is difficult. In this paper we combine the advantages of top–down and bottom–up fabrication, developing two techniques to deposit 2D-lithographically-patterned planar layers on top of or in between inverse-opal 3D photonic crystals and creating hierarchical structures that resemble the architecture of the bright green wing scales of the butterfly, Parides sesostris. These fabrication procedures, combining advantages of both top–down and bottom–up fabrication, may prove useful in the development of omnidirectional coloration elements and 3D–2D photonic crystal devices.
Colourimetric sensors and indicators are widely used because of their low cost and simplicity. A significant challenge associated with the design of this type of device is that the sensing mechanism must be simultaneously optimised for the sensitivity of the response and a visually perceptible colour change. Structural colour, derived from coherent scattering rather than molecular absorption, is a promising route to colourimetric sensor design because colour shifts are tied to changes in one of many physical properties of a material, rather than a specific chemical process. This Feature Article presents an overview of the development of low-cost sensors and indicators that exploit structural colour. Building upon recent advances in structurally adaptive materials design, structural colour sensors have been developed for a wide variety of previously inaccessible physical (e.g. temperature, strain, electric fields) and chemical stimuli (e.g. small organic molecules, charged species, biomacromolecules and metabolites). These devices, often exceeding the state of the art in performance, simplicity or both, have bright prospects for market impact in areas such as environmental monitoring, workplace hazard identification, threat detection, and point-of-care diagnostics. Finding the ideal balance between performance (e.g. sensitivity, specificity, reproducibility, etc.) and simplicity (e.g. colourimetric vs. spectroscopic readout) will be one of the most critical elements in the further development of structural colour sensors. This balance should be driven largely by the market demands and competing technologies.