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Slow road to stability for emulsions

tional rules are based on the properties of the materials, but our results suggest that it also has to do with time and the energy you put into the system."

To study Pickering emulsions, Manoharan and his colleagues used holography to gain a three-dimensional view of microscopic polystyrene balls while they approached an interface between oil and water. The researchers used light from a focused laser (optical tweezers) to gently push a particle toward the interface, hoping to watch it settle into its predicted equilibrium point, straddling the oil-water boundary.

To their surprise, none of the particles reached equilibrium during the experimental timeframe. Instead, they breached the interface quickly, but then slowed down more and more as they crossed into the oil. Mathematically extrapolating the logarithmic behavior they did observe, Manoharan's team discovered that the particles would stabilize on a time frame much longer than anyone had predicted.

"Our experiments only went on for a few minutes, but for the system to reach equilibrium would take at least weeks to months, and possibly years," explains lead author David Kaz, Ph.D. '11, who earned his degree in physics at Harvard's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

The finding is unlikely to affect any time-tested culinary recipes, but many other applications rely on very precise predictions of the particles' behavior.

In biomedical engineering, for example, Pickering emulsions are used to create colloidosomesmicroscale capsules that could deliver precise concentrations of drugs to specific targets in the human body. Understanding the behavior of particles at liquid interfaces is also relevant to many aspects of chemical engineering, water purification, mineral recovery techniques, and the manufacture of nanostructured materials.

The new research suggests that the models currently used to predict and optimize these systems may be too simplistic.


Contact: Caroline Perry
Harvard University

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