Stabilizing Liquid Drops in Nonequilibrium Shapes by the Interfacial Jamming of Nanoparticles

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Science  25 Oct 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6157, pp. 460-463
DOI: 10.1126/science.1242852

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Dynamic Surfactants

Surfactants are used to form a stable interface between two nonmiscible liquids, like oil and water, so that droplets of one fluid can be entrained in the other. Cui et al. (p. 460) designed a surfactant based on the association of a hydrophilic nanoparticle with a functionalized oleophilic molecule that self-assembles at a water-oil interface to produce a composite surfactant. Once adsorbed, the nanoparticles tend to remain in place causing them to accumulate and “jam” at the interface. When a drop was deformed, more surfactant could assemble at the surface, allowing droplets of various shapes to be produced.


Nanoparticles assemble at the interface between two fluids into disordered, liquid-like arrays where the nanoparticles can diffuse laterally at the interface. Using nanoparticles dispersed in water and amine end-capped polymers in oil, nanoparticle surfactants are generated in situ at the interface overcoming the inherent weak forces governing the interfacial adsorption of nanoparticles. When the shape of the liquid domain is deformed by an external field, the surface area increases and more nanoparticles adsorb to the interface. Upon releasing the field, the interfacial area decreases, jamming the nanoparticle surfactants and arresting further shape change. The jammed nanoparticles remain disordered and liquid-like, enabling multiple, consecutive deformation and jamming events. Further stabilization is realized by replacing monofunctional ligands with difunctional versions that cross-link the assemblies. The ability to generate and stabilize liquids with a prescribed shape poses opportunities for reactive liquid systems, packaging, delivery, and storage.

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