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Spontaneous emulsification induced by nanoparticle surfactants

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Microemulsions, mixtures of oil, water, and surfactant, are thermodynamically stable. Unlike conventional emulsions, microemulsions form spontaneously, have a monodisperse droplet size that can be controlled by adjusting the surfactant concentration, and do not degrade with time. To make microemulsions, a judicious choice of surfactant molecules must be made, which significantly limits their potential use. Nanoparticle surfactants, on the other hand, are a promising alternative because the surface chemistry needed to make them bind to a liquid-liquid interface is both well flexible and understood. Here, we derive a thermodynamic model predicting the conditions in which nanoparticle surfactants drive spontaneous emulsification that agrees quantitatively with experiments using Noria nanoparticles. This new class of microemulsions inherits the mechanical, chemical, and optical properties of the nanoparticles used to form them, leading to novel applications.

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