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Evolution of Equilibrium Pickering EmulsionsA Matter of Time Scales

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journal contribution
posted on 30.09.2010, 00:00 by Daniela J. Kraft, Bob Luigjes, Julius W. J. de Folter, Albert P. Philipse, Willem K. Kegel
A new class of equilibrium solid-stabilized oil-in-water emulsions harbors a competition of two processes on disparate time scales that affect the equilibrium droplet size in opposing ways. The aim of this work is to elucidate the molecular origins of these two time scales and demonstrate their effects on the evolution of the emulsion droplet size. First, spontaneous emulsification into particle-covered droplets occurs through in situ generation of surface-active molecules by hydrolysis of molecules of the oil phase. We show that surface tensions of the oil−water interfaces in the absence of stabilizing colloidal particles are connected to the concentration of these surface-active molecules, and hence also to the equilibrium droplet size in the presence of colloids. As a consequence, the hydrolysis process sets the time scale of formation of these solid-stabilized emulsions. A second time scale is governing the ultimate fate of the solid-stabilized equilibrium emulsions: by condensation of the in situ generated amphiphilic molecules onto the colloidal particles, their wetting properties change, leading to a gradual transfer from the aqueous to the oil phase via growth of the emulsion droplets. This migration is observed macroscopically by a color change of the water and oil phases, as well as by electron microscopy after polymerization of the oil phase in a phase separated sample. Surprisingly, the relative oil volume sets the time scale of particle transfer. Phase separation into an aqueous phase and an oil phase containing colloidal particles is influenced by sedimentation of the emulsion droplets. The two processes of formation of surface-active molecules through hydrolysis and condensation thereof on the colloidal surface have an opposite influence on the droplet size. By their interplay, a dynamic equilibrium is created where the droplet size always adjusts to the thermodynamically stable state.