Direct imaging of contacts and forces in colloidal gels.
Colloidal dispersions are prized as model systems to understand the basic properties of materials and are central to a wide range of industries from cosmetics to foods to agrichemicals. Among the key developments in using colloids to address challenges in condensed matter is to resolve the particle coordinates in 3D, allowing a level of analysis usually only possible in computer simulations. However, in amorphous materials, relating mechanical properties to microscopic structure remains problematic. This makes it rather hard to understand, for example, mechanical failure. Here, we address this challenge by studying the contacts and the forces between particles as well as their positions. To do so, we use a colloidal model system (an emulsion) in which the interparticle forces and local stress can be linked to the microscopic structure. We demonstrate the potential of our method to reveal insights into the failure mechanisms of soft amorphous solids by determining local stress in a colloidal gel. In particular, we identify "force chains" of load-bearing droplets and local stress anisotropy and investigate their connection with locally rigid packings of the droplets.