Summary: In this article we present some interesting properties of rodlike cellulose microcrystals (so-called “whiskers”). These microcrystals can be obtained from different cellulose sources such as wood, cotton, or animal origin. When submitted to acid hydrolysis, the cellulose fibers yield stable aqueous suspensions because of the presence of negative charges on the surface of the microcrystallites during the hydrolysis process. The obtained microcrystals are rod-shaped particles, the dimensions of which depend on the cellulose origin. For instance, the cotton whiskers have typical dimensions varying from 100 to 300 nm in length, L, and 8 to 10 nm in diameter, d, while those of the tunicate whiskers range from 100 nm to few micrometers in length and 10 to 20 nm in diameter. At very low concentrations, these whiskers are randomly suspended in water and form an isotropic phase. When the concentration reaches a critical value, the whiskers spontaneously display ordered phases showing interesting liquid crystal properties (nematic and chiral nematic). The chiral nematic orders can be retained after evaporation of the solvent (generally water), leaving iridescent films. The reflected color can be controlled by changing either the ionic strength or by applying an electric field. These colloidal particles have been investigated using several techniques including small-angle neutron scattering (SANS), small angle X-ray scattering, rheology, and more recently dynamic and static light scattering techniques (DLS and SLS) to highlight their static and dynamic behavior. Because of their geometry, important axis ratio (L/d), and high crystallinity, these rods have been also extensively used to process nanocomposites based on polymer matrices, to reinforce their mechanical properties. All these properties are discussed in this contribution.
Rodlike nanocrystals in aqueous suspension (left, Tunicate, 1 wt.-%) and film (right), observed between cross-polarizers.