Bicontinuous emulsions stabilized solely by colloidal particles

Nat Mater. 2007 Dec;6(12):966-71. doi: 10.1038/nmat2055. Epub 2007 Nov 4.


Recent large-scale computer simulations suggest that it may be possible to create a new class of soft solids, called 'bijels', by stabilizing and arresting the bicontinuous interface in a binary liquid demixing via spinodal decomposition using particles that are neutrally wetted by both liquids. The interfacial layer of particles is expected to be semi-permeable; hence, if realized, these new materials would have many potential applications, for example, as micro-reaction media. However, the creation of bijels in the laboratory faces serious obstacles. In general, fast quench rates are necessary to bypass nucleation, so that only samples with limited thickness can be produced, which destroys the three-dimensionality of the putative bicontinuous network. Moreover, even a small degree of unequal wettability of the particles by the two liquids can lead to ill-characterized, 'lumpy' interfacial layers and therefore irreproducible material properties. Here, we report a reproducible protocol for creating three-dimensional samples of bijel in which the interfaces are stabilized by essentially a single layer of particles. We demonstrate how to tune the mean interfacial separation in these bijels, and show that mechanically, they indeed behave as soft solids. These characteristics and their tunability will be of great value for microfluidic applications.