Structural forces in soft matter systems: unique flocculation pathways between deformable droplets
Oscillatory structural forces caused by colloidal additives including micelles, microemulsion droplets and particles were explored between rigid and deformable interfaces using direct force measurements with the atomic force microscope. The observed oscillations from rigid surfaces become distorted when confinement occurs between deformable interfaces, giving rise to a force hysteresis between approaching and separating interfaces. Small-angle neutron scattering was used to determine the bulk structure of the colloidal additives, as a basis for comparison with their behaviour when confined in thin films. It is seen that confinement itself does not appear to significantly alter the structure of the colloidal additive when compared to the bulk; however, at small separations, interactions with the confining interfaces may become important. The combined approach uncovered an unique flocculation pathway that is available to deformable emulsion droplets, and that the strength of this flocculation can be tuned by changes in the size and concentration of the structuring colloid, the emulsion droplet size, and the ionic strength of the solution.