Molecular dynamics simulations of evaporation-induced nanoparticle assembly.
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While evaporating solvent is a widely used technique to assemble nano-sized objects into desired superstructures, there has been limited work on how the assembled structures are affected by the physical aspects of the process. We present large scale molecular dynamics simulations of the evaporation-induced assembly of nanoparticles suspended in a liquid that evaporates in a controlled fashion. The quality of the nanoparticle crystal formed just below the liquid/vapor interface is found to be better at relatively slower evaporation rates, as less defects and grain boundaries appear. This trend is understood as the result of the competition between the accumulation and diffusion times of nanoparticles at the liquid/vapor interface. When the former is smaller, nanoparticles are deposited so fast at the interface that they do not have sufficient time to arrange through diffusion, which leads to the prevalence of defects and grain boundaries. Our results have important implications in understanding assembly of nanoparticles and colloids in non-equilibrium liquid environments.