CAREER: Heterogeneous and Competitive Self-assembly at Liquid-Liquid Interfaces

Project: Research project

Project Details


Self-assembly of micro- or nano- objects at liquid-liquid interfaces is of tremendous interests in various natural and industrial applications. This proposal focuses on integrating research and education centering on heterogeneous and competitive self-assembly at liquid-liquid interfaces. First, we will investigate the self-assembly of heterogeneous colloidal lattices using Pickering emulsions as an experimental template. The two-dimensional colloidal lattices will contain colloidal particles of different wettability, size, and charge. Second, we will expand the concept of Pickering emulsions and use solid particles to stabilize double emulsions (self-assembly of single species solid particles at heterogeneous interfaces). We will investigate the influences of particle size, type, concentration, ionic strength, and oil/water ratio on the structure and stability of double emulsions stabilized by solid particles. Finally, we will study the heterogeneous or competitive self-assembly of nanoparticles and surfactants at liquid-liquid interfaces using a molecular dynamics simulation. We will simulate different concentrations of nanoparticles and surfactants at water-trichloroethylene interfaces as well as other pairs of liquid-liquid interfaces. This state-of-the-art research is of both fundamental and practical significance. Heterogeneous and competitive self-assembly at liquid-liquid interfaces is important in various natural and industrial processes. The proposed heterogeneous colloidal lattices are anticipated to open new ways to functionalize novel materials and to provide heterogeneous 2-D experimental model for condensed matter physics study. The expansion of Pickering emulsion concept to double emulsions is another innovative usage for particles and is anticipated to overcome the current major limitation of double emulsions that inhibited them from featuring in practical and commercial applications. The molecular dynamics simulations of heterogeneous or competitive self-assembly of nanoparticles and surfactants will provide in-situ and molecular information and a better fundamental understanding of the phenomenon that exists in many industrial processes such as oil recovery, multi-layer coatings, and emulsion technology. The integration between research and education will be performed to meet the NSF's goals for two strategic outcomes: People and Ideas. With a strong commitment to education, the PI will establish research-related open-ended projects in the existing courses, promote undergraduate and graduate research, establish a new summer program to broaden the participation of under-represented groups, participate in the Teacher Training Institute, and promote technology transfer. Heterogeneous and competitive self-assembly at liquid-liquid interfaces are important and have widespread practical applications. Last, but not least, this project also provides a unique opportunity to meet our nation's need for a cutting-edge research area with the potential of significant expansion in the 21 st century.


This is a request for an REU supplement. The proposed work will involve one undergraduate researcher to perform Langmuir-Blodgett (LB) trough experiments to facilitate the fundamental understanding and control of the self-assembly of heterogeneous colloidal lattices at oil-water interfaces. In addition, the undergraduate researcher will develop a custom-made mini LB trough to be attached to the newly purchased confocal laser scanning microscope, Leica SP5, and validate the capability of performing LB and confocal imaging experiments simultaneously. Brian Perea, a Colorado native and Hispanic student who conducted the preliminary LB trough experiments, has been preselected for the proposed work.
Effective start/end date9/30/088/31/14


  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $410,000.00


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