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An emulsion is a mixture of two liquids that are typically immiscible (don't blend) that forms a two phase system. One of the two liquids is dispersed in the mixture, forming the dispersed phase. The other liquid contains the dispersion and is known as the continuous phase. An example of two immiscible liquids would be water and oil. In general an emulsion will be unstable since the dispersed phase will try to decrease it's surface tension by grouping with other dispersed droplets until the liquids separate again. However, a stable emulsion can be formed by the addition of emulsifiers, such as surfactants that distribute themselves around the interface between the two liquids, creating a stable system. Emulsions are generally regarded as a special class of colloids where both the continuous and dispersed mediums are liquid. However, this distinction is not rigid with some people such as Witten specifying the term colloid only for a mixture of solids and liquids.

A. Two immiscible liquids. B. An unstable emulsion with both a dispersed and continuous phase. C. The unstable emulsion slowly separates. D. An emulsion with a surfactant to stabilize the mixed system.

Soft Matter Examples

Emulsions are an important type of "soft matter". As a system, it has many properties of a liquid but depending on the size of the dispersed phase droplets, the properties of the emulsion will be very different than those of either pure liquid.

Examples of emulsions from everyday life include butter and margarine.


[1] R. Jones, "Soft Condensed Matter," Oxford University Press Inc., New York (2002).

[2] Wikipedia "Emulsion"

[3] T. Witten, "Structured Fluids: Polymers, Colloids, Surfactants," Oxford University Press Inc., New York (2004).

Keyword in references:

All-aqueous core-shell droplets produced in a microfluidic device

Amphiphilic Crescent-Moon-Shaped Microparticles Formed by Selective Adsorption of Colloids

Contact angle associated with thin liquid films in emulsions

Double-emulsion drops with ultra-thin shells for capsule templates

High-throughput injection with microfluidics using picoinjectors

One-Step Emulsification of Multiple Concentric Shells with Capillary Microfluidic Devices

Patterned Colloidal Coating Using Adhesive Emulsions

Reversible aggregation of responsive polymer-stabilized colloids and the pH-dependent formation of porous scaffolds

Patterning Hierarchy in Direct and Inverse Opal Crystals

Liquid-infused structured surfaces with exceptional anti-biofouling performance

Electric-field-induced capillary attraction between like-charged particles at liquid interfaces

Evaporation-Driven Assembly of Colloidal Particles

Self-Assembly of Spherical Particles on an Evaporating Sessile Droplet

Non-stick water

Superficial Wrinkles in Stretched, Drying Gelatin Films

Mechanics of Interfacial Composite Materials

Gravitational Stability of Suspensions of Attractive Colloidal Particles

Elasticity of Floppy and Stiff Random Networks

Infochemistry: Encoding Information as Optical Pulses Using Droplets in a Microfluidic Device

Shock-driven jamming and periodic fracture of particulate rafts

Colloidal spheres confined by liquid droplets: Geometry, physics, and physical chemistry

Measuring Dynamics and Interactions of Colloidal Particles with Digital Holographic Microscopy

Self-Assembly of Polyhedral Hybrid Colloidal Particles

Surfactant-Assisted Synthesis of Uniform Titania Microspheres and Their Clusters

Self-Organization of Bidisperse Colloids in Water Droplets

Design and Synthesis of Model Transparent Aqueous Colloids with Optimal Scattering Properties