Active binary switching of soft colloids: stability and structural properties

M. Bley, J. Dzubiella, and A. Moncho-Jordá

We employ reactive dynamical density functional theory (R-DDFT) and reactive Brownian dynamics (R-BD) simulations to study the non-equilibrium structure and phase behavior of an active dispersion of soft Gaussian colloids with binary interaction switching, i.e., we consider a one-component colloidal system in which every particle can individually switch stochastically between two interaction states (here, sizes ‘big’ and ‘small’) at predefined rates. We consider the influence of switching activity on the inhomogeneous density profiles of the colloids confined by various external potentials, as well as on their pair structure and phase behavior in bulk solutions. For the latter, we extend the R-DDFT method to incorporate the Percus test-particle route. Our results demonstrate that switching activity strongly modifies the steady-state density profiles and structural (pair) correlations. In particular, the switching rate interpolates from a near-equilibrium binary colloidal mixture of two states at very low rates to a non-equilibrium, ‘one-state liquid’ at very high rates characterized by one, average interaction size. The latter limit can be described by an equivalent effective one-component (EOC) equilibrium system, for which the exact analytical expression for the effective pair potential is a diffusion-weighted superposition of the active systems’ pair potentials. This leads to the interesting fact that under certain conditions an interacting switching system can behave like a non-interacting (ideal) gas in the limit of high switching rates. Moreover, for colloids that are unstable (i.e., demix) near equilibrium, we demonstrate that phase separation and micro-clustering in both confinement and bulk can be dynamically controlled by the switching rate, and vanish for high rates. All R-DDFT results are in excellent agreement with our R-BD simulations.

Soft Matter 17 (2021) 7682.

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