Inverse bicontinuous cubic lyotropic phases are a complex solution to the dilemma faced by all self-assembled water-amphiphile systems: how to satisfy the incompatible requirements for uniform interfacial curvature and uniform molecular packing. The solution reached in this case is for the water-amphiphile interfaces to deform hyperbolically onto triply periodic minimal surfaces. We have previously suggested that although the molecular packing in these structures is rather uniform the relative phase behavior of the gyroid, double diamond, and primitive inverse bicontinuous cubic phases can be understood in terms of subtle differences in packing frustration. In this work, we have calculated the packing frustration for these cubics under the constraint that their interfaces have constant mean curvature. We find that the relative packing stress does indeed differ between phases. The gyroid cubic has the least packing stress, and at low water volume fraction, the primitive cubic has the greatest packing stress. However, at very high water volume fraction, the double diamond cubic becomes the structure with the greatest packing stress. We have tested the model in two ways. For a system with a double diamond cubic phase in excess water, the addition of a hydrophobe may release packing frustration and preferentially stabilize the primitive cubic, since this has previously been shown to have lower curvature elastic energy. We have confirmed this prediction by adding the long chain alkane tricosane to 1-monoolein in excess water. The model also predicts that if one were able to hydrate the double diamond cubic to high water volume fractions, one should destabilize the phase with respect to the primitive cubic. We have found that such highly swollen metastable bicontinuous cubic phases can be formed within onion vesicles. Data from monoelaidin in excess water display a well-defined transition, with the primitive cubic appearing above a water volume fraction of 0.75. Both of these results lend support to the proposition that differences in the packing frustration between inverse bicontinuous cubic phases play a pivotal role in their relative phase stability.
G. C. Shearman, B. J. Khoo, M. Motherwell, K. A. Brakke, O. Ces, C. E. Conn, J. M. Seddon, and R. H. Templer, Calculations of and evidence for chain packing stress in inverse lyotropic bicontinuous cubic phases, Langmuir 23 (2007) 7276-7285.