emulsion

emulsion

[ih-muhl-shuhn]
emulsion: see colloid.

Mixture of two or more liquids in which one is dispersed in the other as microscopic or ultramicroscopic droplets (see colloid). Emulsions are stabilized by agents (emulsifiers) that (e.g., in the case of soap or detergent molecules) form films at the droplets' surface or (e.g., in the case of colloidal carbon, bentonite clay, proteins, or carbohydrate polymers) impart mechanical stability. Less-stable emulsions eventually separate spontaneously into two liquid layers; more-stable ones can be destroyed by inactivating the emulsifier, by freezing, or by heating. Polymerization reactions are often carried out in emulsions. Many familiar and industrial products are oil-in-water (o/w) or water-in-oil (w/o) emulsions: milk (o/w), butter (w/o), latex paints (o/w), floor and glass waxes (o/w), and many cosmetic and personal-care preparations and medications (either type).

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An emulsion (IPA: /ɪˈmʌlʃən/) is a mixture of two immiscible (unblendable) liquids. One liquid (the dispersed phase) is dispersed in the other (the continuous phase). Many emulsions are oil/water emulsions, with dietary fats being one common type of oil encountered in everyday life. Examples of emulsions include butter and margarine, milk and cream, espresso, mayonnaise, the photo-sensitive side of photographic film, magmas and cutting fluid for metal working. In butter and margarine, fat surrounds droplets of water (a water-in-oil emulsion). In milk and cream, water surrounds droplets of fat (an oil-in-water emulsion). In certain types of magma, globules of liquid NiFe may be dispersed within a continuous phase of liquid silicates. Emulsification is the process by which emulsions are prepared.

Emulsion is also a term used in the oil field as untreated well production that consists primarily of crude oil and water.


Emulsions tend to have a cloudy appearance, because the many phase interfaces (the boundary between the phases is called the interface) scatter light that passes through the emulsion. Emulsions are unstable and thus do not form spontaneously. Energy input through shaking, stirring, homogenizers, or spray processes are needed to form an emulsion. Over time, emulsions tend to revert to the stable state of the phases comprising the emulsion. Surface active substances (surfactants) can increase the kinetic stability of emulsions greatly so that, once formed, the emulsion does not change significantly over years of storage. Homemade oil and vinegar salad dressing is an example of an unstable emulsion that will quickly separate unless shaken continuously. This phenomenon is called coalescence, and happens when small droplets recombine to form bigger ones. Emulsions can also suffer from creaming, the migration of one of the substances to the top of the emulsion under the influence of buoyancy or centripetal force when a centrifuge is used.

Emulsions are part of a more general class of two-phase systems of matter called colloids. Although the terms colloid and emulsion are sometimes used interchangeably, emulsion tends to imply that both the dispersed and the continuous phase are liquid.

There are three types of emulsion instability: flocculation, where the particles form clumps; creaming, where the particles concentrate towards the surface (or bottom, depending on the relative density of the two phases) of the mixture while staying separated; and breaking and coalescence where the particles coalesce and form a layer of liquid.

Whether an emulsion turns into a water-in-oil emulsion or an oil-in-water emulsion depends on the volume fraction of both phases and on the type of emulsifier. Generally, the Bancroft rule applies: emulsifiers and emulsifying particles tend to promote dispersion of the phase in which they do not dissolve very well; for example, proteins dissolve better in water than in oil and so tend to form oil-in-water emulsions (that is they promote the dispersion of oil droplets throughout a continuous phase of water).

The basic colour of emulsions is white. If the emulsion is dilute, the Tyndall effect will scatter the light and distort the colour to blue; if it is concentrated, the colour will be distorted towards yellow. This phenomenon is easily observable on comparing skimmed milk (with no or little fat) to cream (high concentration of milk fat). Microemulsions and nanoemulsions tend to appear clear due to the small size of the disperse phase.

Emulsifier

An emulsifier (also known as an emulgent) is a substance which stabilizes an emulsion, frequently a surfactant. Examples of food emulsifiers are egg yolk (where the main emulsifying chemical is lecithin), honey and mustard, where a variety of chemicals in the mucilage surrounding the seed hull act as emulsifiers; proteins and low-molecular weight emulsifiers are common as well. In some cases, particles can stabilize emulsions as well through a mechanism called Pickering stabilization. Both mayonnaise and hollandaise sauce are oil-in-water emulsions that are stabilized with egg yolk lecithin. Detergents are another class of surfactant, and will chemically interact with both oil and water, thus stabilising the interface between oil or water droplets in suspension. This principle is exploited in soap to remove grease for the purpose of cleaning. A wide variety of emulsifiers are used in pharmacy to prepare emulsions such as creams and lotions. Common examples include emulsifying wax, cetearyl alcohol, polysorbate 20, and ceteareth 20.

Sometimes the inner phase itself can act as an emulsifier, and the result is nanoemulsion - the inner state disperges into nano-size droplets within the outer phase. A well-known example of this phenomenon happens when water is poured in a strong alcoholic anise-based beverage, such as ouzo, pastis or raki. The anisolic compounds, which are soluble in ethanol, now form nano-sized droplets and emulgate within the water. The colour of such diluted drink is opaque and milky.

In Medicine

In medicine, microcscopic emulsions are used to deliver vaccines and kill microbes. Typically, the emulsions used in these techniques are nanoemulsions of soybean oil, with particles 400-600 nanometers in diameter.

 The process is not chemical, as with other types of anti-pathogenic treatments, but physical. The smaller the droplet, the greater the surface tension and thus the greater the force to merge with other lipids. The oil is emulsified with detergents to stabilize the emulsion (the droplets won't merge with one another), so when they encounter lipids on a bacterial membrane or a virus envelope, they force the lipids to merge with themselves. On a mass scale, this effectively disintegrates the membrane and kills the pathogen.

Remarkably, the soybean oil emulsion does not harm normal human cells nor the cells of most other higher organisms. The exceptions are sperm cells and blood cells, which are vulnerable to nanoemulsions due to their membrane structures. For this reason, nanoemulsions of this type are not yet ready to be used intravenously.

The most effective application of this type of nanoemulsion is for the disinfection of surfaces. Some types of nanoemulsions have been shown to effectively destroy HIV-1 and various tuberculosis pathogens, for example, on non-porous surfaces.

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