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Riechers, Birte; Maes, Florine; Akoury, Elias; Semin, Benoit; Gruner, Philipp; Baret, Jean-Christophe (2016): Surfactant adsorption kinetics in microfluidics. In: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Vol. 113, Nr. 41: S. 11465-11470
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Abstract

Emulsions are metastable dispersions. Their lifetimes are directly related to the dynamics of surfactants. We design a microfluidic method to measure the kinetics of adsorption of surfactants to the droplet interface, a key process involved in foaming, emulsification, and droplet coarsening. The method is based on the pH decay in the droplet as a direct measurement of the adsorption of a carboxylic acid surfactant to the interface. From the kinetic measurement of the bulk equilibration of the pH, we fully determine the adsorption process of the surfactant. The small droplet size and the convection during the droplet flow ensure that the transport of surfactant through the bulk is not limiting the kinetics of adsorption. To validate our measurements, we show that the adsorption process determines the timescale required to stabilize droplets against coalescence, and we show that the interface should be covered at more than 90% to prevent coalescence. We therefore quantitatively link the process of adsorption/desorption, the stabilization of emulsions, and the kinetics of solute partitioning-here through ion exchange-unraveling the timescales governing these processes. Our method can be further generalized to other surfactants, including nonionic surfactants, by making use of fluorophore-surfactant interactions.