Complex interfaces in “phase-change” contrast agents
In this paper we report on the study of the interface of hybrid shell droplets encapsulating decafluoropentane (DFP), which exhibit interesting potentialities for ultrasound (US) imaging. The fabrication of the droplets is based on the deposition of a dextran methacrylate layer onto the surface of surfactants. The droplets have been stabilized against coalescence by UV curing, introducing crosslinks in the polymer layer and transforming the shell into an elastomeric membrane with a thickness of about 300 nm with viscoelastic behaviour. US irradiation induces the evaporation of the DFP core of the droplets transforming the particles into microbubbles (MBs). The presence of a robust crosslinked polymer shell introduces an unusual stability of the droplets also during the core phase transition and allows the recovery of the initial droplet state after a few minutes from switching off US. The interfacial tension of the droplets has been investigated by two approaches, the pendant drop method and an indirect method, based on the determination of the liquid ↔ gas transition point of DFP confined in the droplet core. The re-condensation process has been followed by capturing images of single MBs by confocal microscopy. The time evolution of MB relaxation to droplets was analysed in terms of a modified Church model to account for the structural complexity of the MB shell, i.e. a crosslinked polymer layer over a layer of surfactants. In this way the microrheology parameters of the shell were determined. In a previous paper (Chem. Commun., 2013, 49, 5763–5765) we showed that these systems could be used as ultrasound contrast agents (UCAs). In this work we substantiate this view assessing some key features offered by the viscoelastic nature of the droplet shell.