Microscopic structure and elasticity of weakly aggregated colloidal gels

Phys Rev Lett. 2006 May 12;96(18):185502. doi: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.96.185502. Epub 2006 May 12.


We directly probe the microscopic structure, connectivity, and elasticity of colloidal gels using confocal microscopy. We show that the gel is a random network of one-dimensional chains of particles. By measuring thermal fluctuations, we determine the effective spring constant between pairs of particles as a function of separation; this is in agreement with the theory for fractal chains. Long-range attractions between particles lead to freely rotating bonds, and the gel is stabilized by multiple connections among the chains. By contrast, short-range attractions lead to bonds that resist bending, with dramatically suppressed formation of loops of particles.