Poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) microgels at the oil–water interface: temperature effect†
Understanding the interfacial properties of soft poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) (PNIPAM) microgels covering an oil–water interface is essential for engineering stimuli-responsive emulsions stabilized by soft microgel particles. This study presents a systematic study on the interfacial properties of the PNIPAM-microgel-laden heptane–water interface as a function of temperature. We measured the interfacial tensions as well as dilatational rheology properties of the microgel-laden heptane–water interface using a pendant drop tensiometer. From fresh droplet experiments, the anomalous interfacial tension minima of the microgels covered oil–water interface were observed around the volume phase transition temperature (VPTT) of the PNIPAM microgels. Such interfacial tension minima are observable regardless of the microgel aggregates. Both dynamic and static parameters contributed to the observed interfacial tension minima around VPTT. The PNIPAM microgel deformability dynamically dominated the microgel spreading at the heptane–water interface in the early states, while PNIPAM microgel packing and interactions dominated the final static equilibrium states. Combining the interfacial tension and the dilatational rheology properties, we propose that the microgels would approach three distinctive states at temperatures below, around, and above VPTT at the heptane–water interface. Single droplet experiments further demonstrate that there exists an irreversible transition among these three states. The results of this study deepen our understanding of soft, porous, and deformable microgels' behaviors at the oil–water interface and have important implications for engineering microgels as stimuli-responsive emulsion stabilizers.