Reversible microscale assembly of nanoparticles driven by the phase transition of a thermotropic liquid crystal

The arrangement of nanoscale building blocks into patterns with microscale periodicity is challenging to achieve via self-assembly processes. Here, we report on the phase transition-driven collective assembly of gold nanoparticles in a thermotropic liquid crystal. A temperature-induced transition from the isotropic to the nematic phase leads to the assembly of individual nanometre-sized particles into arrays of micrometre-sized aggregates, whose size and characteristic spacing can be tuned by varying the cooling rate. This fully reversible process offers hierarchical control over structural order on the molecular, nanoscopic, and microscopic level and is an interesting model system for the programmable patterning of nanocomposites with access to micrometre-sized periodicities.