Geometric frustration in buckled colloidal monolayers

Nature. 2008 Dec 18;456(7224):898-903. doi: 10.1038/nature07595.


Geometric frustration arises when lattice structure prevents simultaneous minimization of local interaction energies. It leads to highly degenerate ground states and, subsequently, to complex phases of matter, such as water ice, spin ice, and frustrated magnetic materials. Here we report a simple geometrically frustrated system composed of closely packed colloidal spheres confined between parallel walls. Diameter-tunable microgel spheres are self-assembled into a buckled triangular lattice with either up or down displacements, analogous to an antiferromagnetic Ising model on a triangular lattice. Experiment and theory reveal single-particle dynamics governed by in-plane lattice distortions that partially relieve frustration and produce ground states with zigzagging stripes and subextensive entropy, rather than the more random configurations and extensive entropy of the antiferromagnetic Ising model. This tunable soft-matter system provides a means to directly visualize the dynamics of frustration, thermal excitations and defects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.