In general, a colloid or colloidal dispersion, is a two-phase system of matter; a type of mixture intermediate between homogeneous mixtures and heterogeneous mixtures.

  • In a phase colloid, small droplets or particles of one substance, the dispersed phase, are dispersed in another, continuous phase.
  • In a molecular colloid, macromolecules are dispersed in a continuous phase (or dispersion medium).

Many familar substances, including butter, milk, cream, aerosols (fog, smog, smoke), asphalt, inks, paints, glues and sea foam, are colloids. This field of study was introduced in 1861 by Scottish scientist Thomas Graham.

The size of dispersed phase particles in a colloid range from 0.001 to 1 micrometers. Dispersions where the particle size is in this range are referred to as colloidal aerosols, colloidal emulsions, colloidal foams, or colloidal suspensions or dispersions. Colloids may be colored or translucent because of the Tyndall effect. The Tyndall effect is the scattering of light by particles in the colloid.


Classification of colloids

Colloids can be classified as follows:

  Dispersed Phase
Dispersing Phase Gas None: all gases are soluble Liquid aerosol,
Examples: fog, mist
Solid aerosol,
Examples: Smoke, dust
Liquid Foam,
Examples: Whipped cream
Examples: Milk, mayonnaise, hand cream, blood
Examples: Paint, pigmented ink
Solid Solid foam,
Examples: Styrofoam, Pumice
Examples: Gelatin, jelly, cheese, Opal
Solid sol,
Examples: Ruby glass

Interaction between colloid particles

Colloids usually are too large to be affected by quantum effects. However, they are light enough, to be affected by the thermic motion happening in the suspension.

The following forces play an important role in the interaction of colloid particles.

  • Hard sphere repulsion: Often colloids are made of hard materials. So two colloids cannot get closer to each other than the sum of their radii.
  • Electrostatic interaction: Colloids can be manufactured, so that they carry a charge. The Coulomb Potential is proportional to <math>\frac{1}{r}<math>. However, if there are solvent particles with a charge opposite to that of the colloids, they assemble around the colloids and screen the repulsion. The potential is then proportional to <math>e^{-\kappa r}<math>.
  • Entropic forces: According to the second law of thermodynamics, a system evolves to a state, in which entropy is maximized. This can result in effective forces even between hard spheres.

Stabilization of colloid suspensions

Stabilization is the means to keep the colloids from all settling on the ground of the container or glueing together. Steric stabilization and electrostatic stabilization are the two main mechanisms for colloid stabilization. Electrostatic stabilization is based on the mutual repulsion of like electrical charges. Different phases generally have different charge affinities, so that a charge double-layer forms at any interface. Small particle sizes lead to enormous surface areas, so that this effect is greatly amplified in colloids. In a stable colloid, mass of a dispersed phase is so low that its buoyancy or kinetic energy is too little to overcome the electrostatic repulsion between charged layers of the dispersing phase. The charge on the dispersed particles can be observed by applying an electric field: all particles migrate to the same electrode and therefore must all have the same charge.

The destruction of a colloid, called coagulation, can be accomplished by heating or by adding an electrolyte. Heating increases the velocities of the particles, causing them to collide with enough energy that the barriers are penetrated and the particles can aggregate. Since this is repeated many times, the particle grows to be large enough to form a precipitate. Adding an electrolyte neutralizes the absorbed ion layers.

Colloids as a model system for atoms

In physics, colloids are an interesting model system for atoms. For instance, crystallization and phase transitions can be observed.

  • It is possible to manufacture the shape of interaction between colloid particles. Thereby atomic potentials can be immitated.
  • Colloids are much bigger than atoms, and can therefore be observed with an optical microscope
  • Due to their size, the velocity of [[diffusion] of colloids is slower. Processes - like crystallization - that happen within picoseconds in atomic systems, are slow enough to be observed in detail.
  • Colloids are too big to be affected by quantum effects. Therefore their dynamics are much easier to understand than that of atoms.

Colloids in biology

In the early 1900s, before enzymology was well understood, colloids were thought to be the key to the operation of enzymes; i.e., the addition of small quantities of an enzyme to a quantity of water would, in some fashion yet to be specified, subtly alter the properties of the water so that it would break down the enzyme's specific substrate, such as a solution of ATPase breaking down ATP. Furthermore, life itself was explainable in terms of the aggregate properties of all the colloidal substances that make up an organism. As more detailed knowledge of biology and biochemistry developed, of course, the colloidal theory was replaced by the macromolecular theory, which explains an enzyme as a collection of identical huge molecules which act as very tiny machines, freely moving about between the water molecules of the solution and individually operating on the substrate, no more mysterious than a factory full of machinery. The properties of the water in the solution are not altered, other than the simple osmotic changes that would be caused by the presence of any solute.

See also

de:Kolloid es:Coloide fr:Collode it:Colloide nl:Collode ja:コロイド pl:Układ koloidalny sv:Kolloid (kemi)


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