This study investigates the aggregation in cyclohexane of silica particles initially stabilized by grafted polystyrene and destabilized by temperature reduction. It complements an earlier study by Zhu and Napper (P.W. Zhu, D.H. Napper, Phys. Rev. E 50 (1994) 1360) in which the aggregation of polystyrene latex particles with tethered poly(N-isopropyl acrylamide) (PNIPAM) in water was investigated. Their dynamic light scattering results showed that both the rate of aggregation and the aggregate fractal dimension increased with a sufficient decrease in the PNIPAM adlayer solvency, achieved by means of either salt (NaNO3) addition or temperature rise. This result stands in contrast to those obtained when an electrostatically stabilized colloid is destabilized, i.e., that the more rapidly aggregates are formed, the lower the resulting fractal dimension. The authors explained their results in terms of the effects of both salt effects and increased temperature on the extent of the hydrophobic interactions between the adlayer-covered surfaces in the water. The present study examines a sterically-stabilized colloid in a nonaqueous solvent, where neither salt effects nor hydrophobic effects play a role. Temperature is decreased to bring the system from better-than-θ-conditions to worse-than-θ-conditions. Power-law aggregation kinetics are observed at 15.7°C by dynamic light scattering. The particles first undergo reduced rate aggregation, producing low-fractal-dimension aggregates, which after some time, restructure into more compact aged clusters. The fractal dimension of these aged clusters increases with increasing initial aggregation rate, consistent with results seen by Zhu and Napper, but without the presence of hydrophobic effects. The ability of the polymer-grafted particles to rearrange suggests aggregation into a secondary minimum, with the ability to slide over one another to achieve a more energetically favorable, denser configuration. The reversible nature of the aggregation is verified by additional experiments gradually bringing the system from worse-than-θ-conditions back to better-than-θ-conditions, with an attendant decrease in aggregate fractal dimension, and ultimately full redispersion. © 2004 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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