Controlling Colloidal Stability using Highly Charged Nanoparticles

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Virginia Tech


This dissertation focused on the potential use of highly charged nanoparticles to stabilize dispersions of weakly charged microparticles. The experimental components of the project centered on a model colloidal system containing silica microparticles at the isoelectric point where the suspensions are unstable and prone to flocculation. The stability of the silica suspensions was studied in the presence of highly charged nanoparticles. Initial experiments used polystyrene latex with either sulfate or amidine surface groups. Effective zeta potentials were measured with nanoparticle concentrations ranging from 0.001% to 0.5% vol. Adsorption levels were determined through direct SEM imaging of the silica microparticles, showing that the nanoparticles directly adsorbed to the microparticles (amidine more than sulfate), producing relatively large effective zeta potentials. However, stability experiments showed that the latex nanoparticles did not stabilize the silica but merely provided a reduction in overall flocculation rate. It was concluded that the zeta potential was an insufficient predictor of stability as there was still sufficient patchiness on the surface to allow for the silica surfaces to aggregate.

Experiments using zirconia and alumina nanoparticles did achieve effective stabilization; both types stabilized the silica suspensions for longer than the observation period of approximately 15 hours. Stability was observed at concentrations of 10^-4% to 1.0% (zirconia) and 10^-2% vol. (alumina). These particles adsorbed directly to the microparticles (confirmed via SEM) and produced increasing effective zeta potentials with increasing nanoparticle concentrations. The adsorption resulted in significant electrostatic repulsion that was determined to be effectively irreversible using colloidal probe AFM. The improved stabilizing ability was attributed to the increased van der Waals attraction between the oxide nanoparticles (compared to polystyrene).

Finally, an unexpected result of the CP-AFM force measurements showed that the repulsive forces between a nanoparticle-coated particle and plate lacked the normal dependence on the radius of the probe as predicted by the Derjaguin approximation. The forces observed in nanoparticle suspensions were virtually identical for 5 µm and 30 µm probes. Based on calculations of the shear rate in the gap, it was theorized that this phenomenon may have resulted from the shearing of adsorbed particles from the surfaces, which leads to similar interaction geometries for the two probe sizes.



Colloidal stability, nanoparticle adsorption, electrostatic forces, van der Waals interactions, atomic force microscopy