Colloidal self-assembly at an interface

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Edited by Qichao Hu

September 19th, 2010

reference: [1]

It is well known that colloidal particles can form at the interfaces between liquids. This phenomenon can be used to self-assemble colloidal particles and ultimately to synthesize new materials.

The colloidal particles' ability to bind to liquid and stabilize emulsion is guided by the need to minimize interfacial energy. When a particle moves from a liquid to a liquid-liquid interface, the change in free energy is

<math>\Delta G=-\pi R^2\gamma_{OW} (1-\cos\theta_C)^2</math>

where <math>R</math> is the particle radius, <math>\gamma_{OW}</math> is the energy per unit area of the liquid-liquid interface, and <math>\theta_C</math> is the contact angle. The contact angle is related to the energy per unit area of the various interfaces through: <math>\cos\theta_C=(\gamma_{PO}-\gamma_{PW})/\gamma_{OW}</math>, where <math>\gamma_{PO}</math> is at the particle-oil interface, and <math>\gamma_{PW}</math> is at the particle-water interface.

The paper focuses on how to control the assembly of colloidal particles at liquid-liquid interfaces. The control methods are divided into two categories: controlling the geometry at the interface, and controlling the particle-particle interaction at the interface.

1) Controlling geometry at the interface

1.1) droplets as templates

When introducing a liquid into another liquid, the droplets can be used as templates for the colloidal particle formation. Although the particles need to be treated such that they readily absorb at the surface, and sometimes coagulants are added to create rigid structures.

The following image shows octanol droplets in water, and the formation of latex particles on the droplet surfaces. Droplet1.jpg

1.2) flat interfaces

One challenge with the self-assembling colloidal particles at the interfaces is transferring them to a solid substrate. A solution is the dip-coating technique. This relies on the onset of capillary force during the evaporation of the liquid.

One such example is shown in the figure below, where the oil-water interface is lowered to confine the particles between the interface and a solid glass substrate.


As the interface approaches the particles, the particles still remain in the water, since the interface deforms under disjoining pressure. This interface deformation leads to capillary force, which aligns the particles into orderly structures.

1.3) interface between bicontinuous fluids