The Molecular Mechanism of Nanodroplet Stability

Evangelia Zdrali, Yixing Chen, Halil I. Okur, David M. Wilkins, Sylvie Roke*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Mixtures of nano- and microscopic oil droplets in water have recently been rediscovered as miniature reaction vessels in microfluidic environments and are important constituents of many environmental systems, food, personal care, and medical products. The oil nanodroplet/water interface stabilized by surfactants determines the physicochemical properties of the droplets. Surfactants are thought to stabilize nanodroplets by forming densely packed monolayers that shield the oil phase from the water. This idea has been inferred from droplet stability measurements in combination with molecular structural data obtained from extended planar interfaces. Here, we present a molecular level investigation of the surface structure and stability of nanodroplets and show that the surface structure of nanodroplets is significantly different from that of extended planar interfaces. Charged surfactants form monolayers that are more than 1 order of magnitude more dilute than geometrically packed ones, and there is no experimental correlation between stability and surfactant surface density. Moreover, dilute negatively charged surfactant monolayers produce more stable nanodroplets than dilute positively charged and dense geometrically packed neutral surfactant monolayers. Droplet stability is found to depend on the relative cooperativity between charge-charge, charge-dipole, and hydrogen-bonding interactions. The difference between extended planar interfaces and nanoscale interfaces stems from a difference in the thermally averaged total charge-charge interactions in the two systems. Low dielectric oil droplets with a size smaller than the Debye length in oil permit repulsive interactions between like charges from opposing interfaces in small droplets. This behavior is generic and extends up to the micrometer length scale.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12111-12120
Number of pages10
JournalACS Nano
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 26 Dec 2017


  • Nanodroplets
  • Water
  • Screening
  • Sum Frequency Scattering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Materials Science(all)
  • Engineering(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'The Molecular Mechanism of Nanodroplet Stability'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this