Title:
Particles with opalescent effect
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
The invention relates to particles with opalescent effect-especially 3-D structural color pigments-based on solid colloidal crystals of monodispersed spheres and the manufacturing processes suitable for large-scale production of such solid colloidal crystal products. The particles with opalescent effect contain a sphere based crystal structure (or super-lattice) built up by monodisperse spheres and one or more secondary types of much smaller colloidal particles occupying partially or completely the empty spaces between the monodisperse spheres.



Inventors:
Fu, Guoyi (Savannah, GA, US)
Lewis, Diane (Savannah, GA, US)
Application Number:
10/433000
Publication Date:
04/15/2004
Filing Date:
05/29/2003
Assignee:
FU GUOYI
LEWIS DIANE
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
428/391, 427/180
International Classes:
C01B13/14; B01J19/00; C01B33/12; C01G1/02; C09C1/00; C09C1/30; C09D5/36; C09K9/00; (IPC1-7): B05D1/12
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
AHMED, SHEEBA
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Millen White (Zelano & Branigan Arlington Courthouse Plaza I 2200 Clarendon Boulevard, Arlington, VA, 22201, US)
Claims:
1. Particles with opalescent effect contain a sphere based crystal structure (or super-lattice) built up by monodisperse spheres and one or more secondary types of much smaller colloidal particles occupying partially or completely the empty spaces between the monodisperse spheres.

2. Particles according to claim 1, characterized in, that the size of the monodisperse spheres ranges from about 150 nm to about 450 nm.

3. Particles according to at least one of claims 1 or 2, characterized in, that the monodisperse spheres are transparent and comprise metal chalcogenide, metal pnictide or organic polymers, especially preferred a metal oxide, preferably silicon dioxide.

4. Particles according to at least one of claims 1 to 3, characterized in, that the size of the secondary colloid species is in the range of about 5 nm up to about one-third in diameter of the size of the monodisperse spheres used, preferably, it is in the range from about 10 nm to about 50 nm.

5. Particles according to at least one of claims 1 to 4, characterized in, that the colloidal species comprise metal oxide sols e.g. SiO2, Al2O3, TiO2, SnO2, Sb2O5, Fe2O3, ZrO2, CeO2 and Y2O3; and/or metal colloids e.g. gold, silver and copper; and/or colloidal polymers such as, for example, poly(methyl methacrylate), poly(vinyl acetate), polyacrylontrile and poly(styrene-co-butadiene).

6. Particles according to at least one of claims 1 to 5, characterized in, that the colloidal species are present in an amount from about 5%-by-weight to about 25%-by-weight with respect to the monodisperse spheres used.

7. Particles according claims 1 to 6, characterized in, that the particles show a opal structure.

8. Particles according claims 1 to 7, characterized in, that the particles show a inverse opal structure

9. Method of manufacturing thin layer (flaky) crystals of monodisperse spheres characterized in, that a substrate coating technology is used.

10. Method according to claim 9 characterized in, that in a first stage a suspension of monodisperse spheres is prepared at a suitable concentration, in an appropriate solvent, and with a suitable amount of one or more colloidal species with much; smaller particle size than the monodisperse spheres.

11. Method according to at least one of claims 9 or 10, characterized in that in a second stage the suspension is brought onto a flat substrate, static or constantly moving with desired thickness of the suspension layer and optionally the crystalline layer is then initially dried and removed from the substrate at small pieces of flakes.

12. Method according to at least one of the claims 9 to 11, characterized in, that in a final stage the crystal flakes are further dried, optionally calcined, milled to reduce the particle size to an appropriate range, and optionally classified into different fractions of final products.

13. Method according to claims 9 to 12 characterized in that the concentration of the suspension of monodisperse spheres for crystallization is in the range from about 5%-by-weight to about 65%-by-weight, preferably the concentration is in the range from about 20%-by-weight to about 50%-by-weight.

14. Method according to claims 9 to 13, characterized in, that the substrate materials that may be used for the production of the thin layer crystals of the monodisperse spheres are selected from the group that includes glass, metals, e.g. stainless steel and aluminum, and polymer materials e.g. polypropylene, polystyrene, poly(methyl pentene), polycarbonate, poly(ethylene terephthalate).

15. Method according to claim 14 characterized in, that the substrate surface is pretreated with dilute acids or bases in order to make it more wettable for the colloid suspension.

16. Particles according to claims 1 to 8, characterized in, that the particles are thin layer crystals with layer thicknesses from about 20 μm to over 5 mm, preferably from about 100 μm up to about 1000 μm.

17. Use of particles according to at least one of claims 1 to 8 or 16 or of thin layer flaky crystals produced with a method according to at least one of the claims 9 to 15 for photonic and optoelectronic device applications

Description:
[0001] The field of the invention relates to particles with opalescent effect—especially 3-D structural color pigments—based on solid colloidal crystals of monodispersed spheres and the manufacturing processes suitable for large-scale production of such solid colloidal crystal products.

[0002] The 3-D-structural color pigments yield color effects as a result of light diffraction by ordered three-dimensional structures of colloidal moonodisperse spheres. They diffract light because the lattice spacings, and therefore, the modulation of refractive index in their structures are in the rage of the wavelength of light. The color effects are optimized by adjusting the refractive index difference between the monodisperse spheres and the media in between the spheres. This may be accomplished by partially or completely infiltrating the monodisperse spherebased crystal structure with one or more suitable secondary materials. The resultant high quality colloidal crystals may also be used as photonic crystals for potential photonic and optoelectronic applications.

[0003] By way of background, precious opals are well known for their striking color displays. The strong color effect by these natural gemstones typically originates from their unique structures formed by closely packed, uniformly sized silica spheres (Sanders J V, Nature 1964, 204, 1151-1153; Acta Crystallogr. 1968, 24, 427-434). These highly organized structures (super-lattices of silica spheres) with the size of the spheres in the range of wavelength of visible light selectively diffract certain wavelengths and, as a result, provide strong, angle dependent colors corresponding to the diffracted wavelengths. Synthetic opals were produced by crystallizing uniformly sized silica spheres mainly through sedimentation processes (see for example: U.S. Pat. No. 3,497,367). These synthetic gemstones are used as alternatives to the natural opals in the jewelry industries.

[0004] Recently, scientists, mainly in academic institutions have discovered that materials with opal-like structures may be used as photonic band gap materials or crystals. An ideal photonic band gap crystal has the capability to manipulate light (photons) the same way as semiconductors manipulate electrons (see John D. Joannopoulos, et al. “Photonic Crystals, Molding of the Light”, Princeton University Press, and Costas M. Soukoulis (ed.), “Photonic Band Gap Materials”, NATO ASI Series E, Vol. 315, Kluwer Academic Publishers). These crystals with complete band gaps hold the promise for future super-fast optical computing and optical communication technologies just as silicon semiconductors did for electronic computing and electronic communication technologies. To achieve a complete band gap, scientists have looked into a variety of different materials and structures. Besides silica spheres, different polymer spheres have also be used to produce opal-like structures (see, for example, Sanford A. Asher, et al. J. Am. Chem. Soc.,

[0005] The present invention deals with particles with opalescent effect that contain a sphere based crystal structure (or super-lattice) built up by monodisperse spheres and one or more secondary types of much smaller colloidal particles occupying partially or completely the empty spaces between the monodisperse spheres.

[0006] The smaller colloidal particles in the structure modify the refractive index contrast between the monodisperse spheres and the media in between them. They also act as binding agents to hold the sphere based structure more strongly together. The monodisperse spheres suitable for the particles with opalescent effect typically have a standard deviation of the particle size of less than 5%, preferably about 2%.

[0007] The existing physical effect pigments or colorants are essentially exclusively based on layered structures with refractive indexes alternating in only one dimension. Typical products include, for example, pearlescent pigments based on bismuth oxychloride or lead carbonate crystalline platelets, interference pigments based mica flakes or alumina flakes, and gonio-chromatic pigments based on silica flakes, metal flakes or liquid crystal platelets. These products have been extensively reviewed by Pfaff and Reynders recently (Chemical Reviews, 1999, 99(7), 1963-1981).

[0008] This invention also deals with a method of manufacturing thin layer (flaky) crystals of monodisperse spheres using a substrate coating technology. The substrate may be a static, flat surface or a moving belt. The latter is known as a web coating process (U.S. Pat. No. 3,138,475) which was expanded to produce silica and titania flakes for layered interference colorants (World Patents 93/08237, 97/43346 and 97/43348). This web coating technology is capable of large scale production of 3-D structural color pigments of the current invention. The method may also be used to produce photonic crystals based on normal opal or inverse opal structures suitable for photonic and optoelectronic device applications.

[0009] Therefore this invention also deals with the use of the particles or of thin layer flaky crystals produced with the method described herein for photonic and optoelectronic device applications.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0010] FIG. 1 schematically presents layer-based 1-D, rod-based 2-D and sphere-based 3-D structures and their possible interaction with light.

[0011] FIG. 2 is a schematic flowsheet of a preferred embodiment of the process of the invention.

[0012] FIGS. 3A and 3B are electron micrographs of silica sphere crystals.

[0013] Referring now to FIG. 1, in the layered structure case, light beams are partially reflected at each interface between two layers having different refractive index. These reflected beams interfere at one or more directions, which are observed as colors corresponding to the frequencies of the reflected beams. For the higher dimensional structures, light beams are diffracted by the crystal planes in the periodic super-lattices similar to the way that atomic crystals diffract X-rays. Since the higher dimensional structures contain multiple sets of crystal planes, diffracted beams and, therefore, colors may be observed at multiple angles. Typical 2-D structures showing striking color effects include butterfly wings, bird feathers, among many others (see M. Srinivasarao, Chemical Reviews, 1999, 99(7), 1935-1961). Opals are well known for their striking color displays and their structures are based on 3-D superlattices of monodispersed silica spheres.

[0014] In the previous art of synthetic opals, silica spheres were first synthesized and fractionated into narrow particle size fractions. Then spheres with the desired, size uniformity and range were assembled into closely packed arrays by sedimentation or centrifugation. The packed arrays were finally stabilized by heating or by the use of a cement-like material to bond the spheres together. In recent publications on the synthesis of photonic crystals, specifically designed cells, table top filters, as well as sedimentation processes were used to assemble mono-dispersed polymer or silica spheres into 2-D or 3-D closely packed arrays. A second material typically with high refractive index such as metal oxides, carbon or metal was then introduced into the structure by infiltrating the gaps between the spheres with a desired precursor material followed by certain treatments to convert precursor material into desired material. Finally, the polymer or silica spheres were removed from the structure by chemical or thermal processes. In photonics applications, polymer or silica does not have enough high refractive index to provide a strong optical effect. Infiltration with high refractive index material is generally necessary.

[0015] It is also known that high quality color displays by opal or opal-like structures requires not only highly uniform spheres and well-ordered crystal lattices of the spheres but also an optimized contrast of refractive index between the lattice-forming spheres and the media or the space in between them. JP 7512133 (Japanese) describes artificial opal products with strong colors based on polymer materials, in which the lattice-forming polymer spheres had a refractive index of 1.50 while the infiltrated phase, also a polymer, had a refractive index of 1.42. Colvin, et. al. have also addressed the dependence of optical properties on the refractive index contrast for silica opal structures (Physical Review Letters, 1999, 83(2), 300-303).

[0016] In an preferred example of the current invention, a new type of 3-D structural color pigments is produced via a substrate coating process of the type shown in FIG. 2. Typically, the process involves three production stages. In the first stage, the suspension preparation stage, a suspension of moonodisperse spheres is prepared at a suitable concentration, in an appropriate solvent, and with a suitable amount of one or more colloidal species with much smaller particle size than the monodisperse spheres for ‘refractive’ index adjustment and structure binding. In a second stage, crystallization stage, the suspension is brought onto a flat substrate, static or constantly moving with desired thickness of the suspension layer; the spheres are crystallized into, closely packed layers along with the evaporation of the solvent; the crystalline layer is then initially dried and removed from the substrate at small pieces of flakes. In a final stage, the product finishing stage, the crystal flakes are further dried, calcined, milled to reduce the particle size to an appropriate range, and then classified into different fractions of final products.

[0017] The monodisperse spheres may comprise almost any materials which are sufficently transparent for the wavelengths of the desired light reflections, so that this light is able to penetrate several sphere diameters deep into the particle. Preferred spheres comprise metal chalcogenides, preferably metal oxides or metal pnictides, preferably nitrides or phosphides. Metals in the sense of these terms are all elements which may occur as an electropositive partner in comparison to the counterions, such as the classic metals of the transition groups and the main group metals of main groups one and two, but also including all elements of main group three and also silicon, germanium, tin, lead, phosphorous, arsenic, antimony and bismuth. The preferred metal chalcogenides and metal pnictides include, in particular, silicon dioxide, aluminium oxide, titanium dioxide, zirconium dioxide, gallium nitride, boron nitride and aluminum nitride and also silicon nitride and phosphorous nitride.

[0018] Starting material for the production of the particles of the invention preferably comprises monodisperse spheres of silicon dioxide which are obtainable, for example, by the process described in U.S. Pat. No. 4,911,903. The spheres are produced by hydrolytic polycondensation of tetraalkoxysilanes in an aqueous-ammoniacal medium, a sol of primary particles being produced first of all and then the SiO2 particles obtained being brought to the desired particle size by continuous, controlled addiction of tetraalkoxysilane. With this process it is possible to produce monodisperse SiO2 spheres having average particle diameters of between 0.05 and 10 μm with a standard deviation of 5%.

[0019] Further starting material comprises SiO2 spheres coated with nonabsorbing metal oxides, such as TiO2, ZrO2, ZnO2, SnO2 or Al2O3, for example. The production of SiO2 spheres coated with metal oxides is described in more detail in U.S. Pat. No. 5,846,310, DE 198 42 134 and DE 199 29 109, for example. Coating with absorbing metal oxides, such as the iron oxides Fe3O4 and/or Fe2O3, also leads to particles which may be used in accordance with the invention.

[0020] As starting material it is also possible to use monodisperse spheres of nonabsorbing metal oxides such as TiO2, ZrO2, ZnO2, SnO2 or Al2O3 or metal oxide mixtures. Their preparation is described, for example, in EP 0 644 914. Furthermore, the process according to EP 0 216 278 for producing monodisperse SiO2 spheres may be transferred readily and with the same result to other oxides. To a mixture comprising alcohol, water and ammonia, whose temperature is set precisely using a thermostat to 30-40° C., tetraethoxysilane, tetrabutoxytitanium, tetrapropoxyzirconium or mixtures thereof are added in one shot with intensive mixing and the resulting mixture is stirred intensively for a further 20 seconds, forming a suspension of monodisperse spheres in the nanometer range. Following a post-reaction period of from 1 to 2 hours, the spheres are separated off in a conventional manner, by centrifuging, for example, and are washed and dried.

[0021] Monodisperse polymer spheres as well, for example polystyrene or polymethyl methacrylate, may be used as starting material for the production of the particles of the invention. Spheres of this kind are available commercially. Bangs Laboratories Inc. (Carmel, USA) offer monodisperse spheres of a very wide variety of polymers.

[0022] Further suitable starting material for producing the pigments of the invention comprises monodisperse spheres of polymers which contain included particles, for example material oxides. Such materials are offered by the company micro caps. Entwicklungs- und Vertriebs GmbH in Rostock, Germany. In accordance with customer-specific requirements, microencapsulations are manufactured on the basis of polyesters, polyamides and natural and modified carbohydrates.

[0023] It is further possible to use monodisperse spheres of metal oxides coated with organic materials, for example silanes. The monodisperse spheres are dispersed in alcohols and modified with common organoalkoxysilanes. The silanization of spherical oxide particles is also described in DE 43 16 814.

[0024] The suspension ready for crystallization may be simply prepared by mixing a monodisperse sphere suspension and the sols containing the desired colloid species if they are already in a desired solvent in a desired concentration. However, extra steps may be needed to prepare the suspension. Typically, a suspension of monodisperse spheres is mixed with desired amounts of one or more smaller particle species regardless of their solvents and concentrations. The resultant suspension is centrifuged to separate the particles from their solvents. Then the particle mixture is redispersed in a desired solvent and at a suitable concentration ready for crystallization. The redispersion may be done by mechanical mixing and agitation followed by, if necessary, ultrasonic treatment. If necessary, the centrifugation and redispersion may be repeated one or more times before proceeding to the crystallization stage.

[0025] The concentration of the sphere suspension for crystallization may vary from ˜5% to ˜65% in weight. A preferred concentration is from ˜20% to ˜50%. For a moving substrate process, a concentration from ˜40% to ˜50% is more preferred. A large number of different solvents may be used for the preparation of the suspension. Examples include but are not limited to water, ethanol, methanol, 1- or 2-propanol, acetone, acetonitrile, dichloromethane, methyl chloroform, methyl acetate, butyl acetate, ethylene, glycol, among many others. The preferred solvents ate water and ethanol on the basis of economic, health, safety and environmental considerations. If a high production yield is desired, especially in the case-that a continuously moving substrate is used, ethanol is more preferred than water. A thin layer of the ethanol suspension on an appropriate substrate can be crystallized (solvent removed) rapidly even under normal evaporation conditions. With the help of an infrared heater, the solvent removal may be completed in a couple of minutes without compromising much of the crystalline quality.

[0026] For the crystals that work in the visible light range for color pigment applications, the preferred sphere size ranges from ca. 150 nm to ca. 450 nm. The sphere size for the reflection of certain wavelength may be estimated using the Bragg equation, λ=2nd sin θ, where λ is the wavelength diffracted, n is the refractive index of the structure, d is the plane spacing, and θ in the Bragg glancing angle. For example, the longest wavelength (θ=λ/2) diffracted by the 100 planes of a hexagonal close packed structure (d=r{square root}3, r is the radius of the spheres) would be: λ=5.02 r (assuming n=1.45 for the structure based on amorphous monodisperse spheres). The size of the secondary colloid species used for refractive index adjustment and structure stabilization may vary from ˜5 nm up to about one-third in diameter of the size of the monodisperse spheres used.

[0027] Preferably, it is from −10 nm to −50 nm. Too large a size of the colloid species may cause structural distortions and reduce the optical effect.

[0028] Examples of the colloidal species that may be used include but are not limited to metal oxide sols e.g. SiO2, Al2O3, TiO2, SnO2, Sb2O5, Fe2O3, ZrO2, CeO2 and Y2O3 metal colloids e.g. gold, silver and copper; and colloidal polymers such as, for example, poly(methyl methacrylate), poly(vinyl acetate), polyacrylontrile and poly(styrene-co-butadiene). There are two important criteria in selecting the colloidal species for the preparation. There has to be at least one colloidal species that can effectively adjust the refractive index ratio to achieve a desired color effect. There also has to be at least one colloidal species that can effectively bind the structure together with enough mechanical strength after final treatment. It is possible that one colloidal species does both refractive index adjustment and binding. In this case, only one species is necessary. The optimum amount of the colloidal species needed can be determined experimentally by routine experimentation. The optimized amount of the colloids would result in the best crystal quality, the best color quality and highest mechanical stability. Typically, it varies from ˜5% to ˜25% in weight with respect to the monodisperse spheres used. In the cases where centrifugation is needed in the suspension preparation, an extra amount of the colloidal species is needed taking into account the possible incomplete isolation of the smaller colloid particles.

[0029] Examples of substrate materials that may be used for the production of thin layer crystals of monodisperse spheres include but are not limited to glass, metals, e.g. stainless steel and aluminum, and polymer materials e.g. polypropylene, polystyrene, poly(methyl pentene), polycarbonate, poly(ethylene terephthalate), just to name a few. Pretreatment of the substrate surface with dilute acids or bases may be needed in order to make it more wettable for the colloid suspension to be used. If a moving substrate for large scale production is concerned, polymer materials are preferred due to their flexibility and low cost.

[0030] The thickness of the monodisperse spherebased crystal layers may be estimated by taking into account the amount and concentration of the suspension, and surface area of substrate being covered. For a moving substrate, it is also related to the application rate of the suspension and the moving speed of the substrate. Achievable layer thicknesses by this process ranges from ˜20 μm to over 5 mm, preferably, ˜100 μm to ˜1000 μm. Evaporation crystallization and initial stage drying may be accomplished either at room temperature or under heat. Preferred heaters are those that use infrared irradiation sources, which may be easily incorporated into a web-coating equipment for the moving substrate process. The collection of the layered crystals as millimeter sized flakes may be done by simply brushing them off the substrate. At this stage, the crystals are not fully stabilized and still fragile. Excess mechanical impact should be avoided to keep the sphere based structure intact. Then the crystals undergo finishing treatments and are processed into final products. Typical finishing steps include drying, heat treatment or calcination, milling, and classification. For a whole inorganic crystal product, the calcination temperature ranges from 400° C. to 1100° C., preferably from 600° C. to 800° C.

[0031] An alternative modified substrate coating method may also be used to produce 3-D color pigments with controlled crystal size and shape. In this way, the milling and classification steps in the product finishing stage described above may not be needed. The key modification to the above method is the selection of substrate materials. Unlike the above method, where the substrate and the suspension are compatible so that the suspension can very well wet the substrate, an incompatible substrate is chosen. Instead of a uniform layer, the suspension would stay on the substrate as individual small drops. After evaporation/crystallization, these drops would become solid crystalline particles. The size of the crystalline particles may be controlled by controlling the size of the drops and the concentration of the suspension. The shape of the crystalline particles may be controlled to certain degrees by changing substrates or by changing the surface nature of a substrate. This way, one may be able to control the contact angle of a suspension on a substrate. By adjusting the contact angle, one may be able to achieve disc-like, ring-like and even ball-like particles. In the lab scale, micro pipettes or syringes may be used to generate the droplets. At larger scale, spraying devices or even inkjet technology may be used. Solid substrates are preferred. For example, any hydrophobic polymer substrate may be used for water suspension and a hydrophyllic polymer substrate can be used for oil suspensions. A Teflon substrate in particular, may be used for both water and ethanol suspensions. This would thus be an improvement over the method of Velev et. al generating shape controlled, polymer sphere based photonic crystals (Science, 2000, 287, 2240) by carrying out crystallization on a surface of a fluorinated oil.

[0032] Potential application areas of the 3-D structural color pigments include coatings, paints, cosmetic formulations and polymer plastics. The pigments would be incorporated in the formulation in an analogous manner to known formulation containing 2-D color pigments.

[0033] In the foregoing and in the following examples, all temperatures are set forth uncorrected in degrees Celsius; and, unless otherwise indicated, all parts and percentages are by weight.

[0034] The entire disclosure of all applications, patents and publications, cited above and below is hereby incorporated by reference.

EXAMPLE 1

[0035] A Merck KGaA's silica monospheres were used as raw materials for the production of the 3-D structural color pigment of this invention. The particle size of the monodisperse spheres is 250 nm with polydispersity of less than 5% (also known as coefficient of variation=standard deviation/mean-diameter). The sample came as a water suspension at a concentration of 11% in weight. 120 g of silica sphere suspension was mixed with 8 g of a silica sol from Nissan Chemicals (Snowtex-40) having a particle size distribution of 11-14 nm and a concentration of 40-41% in water. The mixture was centrifuged at 3000 rpm for 30 minutes to separate the solid from the liquid. The solid was redispersed in anhydrous ethanol (reagent grade from Alfa Aesar) to the original volume by mechanical stirring and ultrasonic treatment. The solid was separated again by centrifugation and redispersed again in ethanol to the half of the original volume. The suspension so prepared was divided into 4 equal parts and each was added to a glass Petri dish having a flat bottom and about 175 cm2 in surface area. The suspension films in the dishes were left to evaporate/crystallize at room temperature overnight. Then the initially dried crystalline films was collected as small irregular shaped platelets, dried at 110° C. for 6 hours and cilcined at 800° C. for 8 hours. The platelets were finally ground into smaller sizes and screened to desired size ranges. The product showed a strong greenish diffraction color at a viewing angle close to normal axis of the crystalline surface and reddish color at an angle far away from the normal axis.

EXAMPLE 2

[0036] Same as in Example 1, but 8 g of tin(IV) oxide sol was used instead of silica sol. The tin oxide sol was purchased from Alfa Aesar having an average particle size of 15 nm and a concentration of 15 wt. % in water dispersion. Both the colors and mechanical strength were comparable to the product from Example 1. The resultant products are shown in FIGS. 3A and 3B. In FIG. 3A the spheres are shown bound together with nanometer sized tin oxide colloids. In the higher magnification of FIG. 3B, the necks formed by the tin oxide colloid between neighboring spheres are clearly visible.

EXAMPLE 3

[0037] Same as in Example 1, but 4 g of the silica sol as in Example 1 and 4 g of SnO2 sol as in Example 2 was used. The product showed both colors and mechanical strength comparable to that from Example 1.

EXAMPLE 4

[0038] Same as in Example 1, but Petri dishes made of polymethylpentene instead of glass were used. The evaporation/crystallization was performed under a infrared heater at about 50° C. The process was virtually completed in about 15 minutes. The product shows comparable properties as that from Example 1.

EXAMPLE 5

[0039] 120 g of the silica sphere suspension same as that used in Example 1 was added to glass cylinder and was left undisturbed for 3 days at room temperature. At the bottom of cylinder, a layer of colloidal crystal formed as indicated by strong iridescent colors. The colloidal crystal portion was collected by gently decanting away the upper liquid. Then concentrated suspension collected this way was mixed with 1.5 g of Snowtex-40 as in Example 1. The mixture was added into 2 glass dishes and evaporated at room temperature for about 24 hours. The product was further processed the same way as described in Example 1. It showed comparable color and mechanical strength.

[0040] The preceding examples can be repeated with similar success by substituting the generically or specifically described reactants and/or operating conditions of this invention for those used in the preceding examples.

[0041] From the foregoing description, one skilled in the art can easily ascertain the essential characteristics of this invention and, without departing from the spirit and scope thereof, can make various changes and modifications of the invention to adapt it to various usages and conditions.