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Langmuir. 2005 Oct 25;21(22):10074-81.

Limitations of differential electrophoresis for measuring colloidal forces: a Brownian dynamics study.

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  • 1Department of Chemical Engineering and the Materials Research Institute, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, USA.


Differential electrophoresis experiments are often used to measure subpiconewton forces between two spheres of a heterodoublet. The experiments have been interpreted by solving the electrokinetic equations to obtain a simple Stokes law-type equation. However, for nanocolloids, the effects of Brownian motion alter the interpretation: (1) Brownian translation changes the rate of axial separation. (2) Brownian rotation reduces the alignment of the doublet with the applied electric field. (3) Particles can reaggregate by Brownian motion after they break, forming either heterodoublets or homodoublets, and because homodoublets cannot be broken by differential electrophoresis, this effectively terminates the experiment. We tackle points 1 and 2 using Brownian dynamics simulations (BDS) with electrophoresis as an external force, accounting for convective translation and rotation as well as Brownian translation and rotation. Our simulations identify the lower particle size limit of differential electrophoresis to be about 1 microm for desired statistical accuracy. Furthermore, our simulations predict that particles around 10 nm in size and at ambient conditions will break primarily by Brownian motion, with a negligible effect due to the electric field.

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