Spinodal Decomposition in a Model Colloid-Polymer Mixture in Microgravity

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Original Entry by Michelle Borkin, AP225 Fall 2009


"Spinodal Decomposition in a Model Colloid-Polymer Mixture in Microgravity."

A. E. Bailey, W. C. K. Poon, R. J. Christianson, A. B. Schofield, U. Gasser, V. Prasad, S. Manley, P. N. Segre, L. Cipelletti, W. V. Meyer, M. P. Doherty, S. Sankaran, A. L. Jankovsky, W. L. Shiley, J. P. Bowen, J. C. Eggers, C. Kurta, T. Lorik, Jr., P. N. Pusey, and D. A. Weitz, Physical Review Letters 99, 205701 (2007).


Colloidal Dispersion, Polymer, Spinodal decomposition, Depletion interactions, quench, light scattering, coarsening


A quenched colloid-polymer mixture was prepared in a microgravity environment to study the mixtures evolution from spinodal decomposition to interfacial tension driven coarsening. The experiment was conducted on the International Space Station (ISS) as part of NASA's "Physics of Colloids in Space" project. The sample was imaged with the project's light scattering instrumentation and direct digital imaging cameras. The mixture was composed of polymethylmethacrylate particles and polystyrene. The liquid after total separation was 45%:55% by volume liquid and gas phases. On Earth, this separation took ~2 hours, whereas in the microgravity environment it took ~30 times longer and was able to be studied is far greater detail. Microgravity also resulted in larger density differences between the final phases as well as an ultralow interfacial tension. Also, it was observed that the evolution over time of the deep quenching follows the same evolutionary function as in binary liquids. This implies variations in the characteristic length scale of colloidal gels depend on the rate of coarsening.

For more information about this experiment and others from the "Physics of Colloids in Space" project, go to:

Soft Matter

Figure 1.

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