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Langmuir. 2008 Jul 15;24(14):7565-72. doi: 10.1021/la800021h. Epub 2008 Jun 18.

A metastable van der waals gel: transitioning from weak to strong attractions.

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Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois 61801, USA.


Here we describe a method to create gels where the gel point is decoupled from gel elastic properties. Working with charge stabilized polystyrene latex particles with diameters, D, of 508-625 nm at ionic strengths of 0.1-1 M, the gel volume fraction is varied from 0.10-0.35 through the addition of less than monolayer coverage of hexaethylene glycol monododecyl ether (C6E12). At each surfactant concentration, the gel volume fraction depends on the background ionic strength. The changes in gel point with surfactant concentration suggest the strength of interparticle attraction decreases with increasing surfactant concentration. These changes are not reflected in the gel moduli, which are independent of surfactant concentration and ionic strength. We propose a model to describe this behavior based on gelation due to localization in a shallow truncated van der Waals minimum produced by the surfactant acting as a steric stabilizing layer. The surfactant remains mobile on the surface. Below the gel volume fraction, the time particles spend in the truncated well are not sufficient for the surfactant to be displaced such that the particles can only sample the shallow well. Above the gel volume fraction, particles are localized in the truncated van der Waals minima for sufficient periods of time to displace the surfactant layers with the result being that the particles fall into a primary van der Waals minimum. The result is gel points sensitive to surfactant concentration but moduli that are independent of the gel volume fraction.

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