Topography and instability of monolayers near domain boundaries

H. Diamant, T. A. Witten, C. Ege, A. Gopal, K. Y.C. Lee

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We theoretically study the topography of a biphasic surfactant monolayer in the vicinity of domain boundaries. The differing elastic properties of the two phases generally lead to a nonflat topography of “mesas,” where domains of one phase are elevated with respect to the other phase. The mesas are steep but low, having heights of up to 10 nm. As the monolayer is laterally compressed, the mesas develop overhangs and eventually become unstable at a surface tension of about [Formula Presented] being the difference in spontaneous curvature and K a bending modulus). In addition, the boundary is found to undergo a topography-induced rippling instability upon compression, if its line tension is smaller than about [formula presented] The effect of diffuse boundaries on these features and the topographic behavior near a critical point are also examined. We discuss the relevance of our findings to several experimental observations related to surfactant monolayers: (i) small topographic features recently found near domain boundaries; (ii) folding behavior observed in mixed phospholipid monolayers and model lung surfactants; (iii) roughening of domain boundaries seen under lateral compression; (iv) the absence of biphasic structures in tensionless surfactant films.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPhysical Review E - Statistical Physics, Plasmas, Fluids, and Related Interdisciplinary Topics
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


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