Direct measurements of the effects of salt and surfactant on interaction forces between colloidal particles at water-oil interfaces

Langmuir. 2008 Mar 4;24(5):1686-94. doi: 10.1021/la7008804. Epub 2008 Jan 18.


The forces between colloidal particles at a decane-water interface, in the presence of low concentrations of a monovalent salt (NaCl) and the surfactant sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS) in the aqueous subphase, have been studied using laser tweezers. In the absence of electrolyte and surfactant, particle interactions exhibit a long-range repulsion, yet the variation of the interaction for different particle pairs is found to be considerable. Averaging over several particle pairs was hence found to be necessary to obtain a reliable assessment of the effects of salt and surfactant. It has previously been suggested that the repulsion is consistent with electrostatic interactions between a small number of dissociated charges in the oil phase, leading to a decay with distance to the power -4 and an absence of any effect of electrolyte concentration. However, the present work demonstrates that increasing the electrolyte concentration does yield, on average, a reduction of the magnitude of the interaction force with electrolyte concentration. This implies that charges on the water side also contribute significantly to the electrostatic interactions. An increase in the concentration of SDS leads to a similar decrease of the interaction force. Moreover, the repulsion at fixed SDS concentrations decreases over longer times. Finally, measurements of three-body interactions provide insight into the anisotropic nature of the interactions. The unique time-dependent and anisotropic interactions between particles at the oil-water interface allow tailoring of the aggregation kinetics and structure of the suspension structure.