MSE Research Project Database

Growing and shrinking drops and bubbles: surface forces and transport between drops and bubbles to control formulated emulsions and foams

Project Leader: Ray Dagastine
Collaborators: Joe Berry (Chemical Engineering)
Sponsors: Australian Research Council, Melbourne School of Engineering
Primary Contact: Ray Dagastine (
Keywords: complex fluids; drops and bubbles; fluid dynamics; nanofabrication; soft matter; surface forces
Disciplines: Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering
Domains: Convergence of engineering and IT with the life sciences
Research Centre: Particulate Fluids Processing Centre (PFPC)


The dynamic interfacial forces in soft matter materials (e.g. drops, bubbles, and even biological cells) mediate or control macroscopic behaviour in growing the high-value sectors of biotechnology and nanotechnology as well as in materials used in everyday items. Some examples include the production of salad dressing, milk and shampoo, industrial processes such as solvent extraction used for pharmaceutical and mineral purification, as well as, development of microfluidic devices for new applications. The addition of surfactants, polymers and biological molecules, at these interfaces impart a multilevel complexity and lateral heterogeneity starting at the molecular scale and spanning to the macroscopic scale. This complexity often creates a gap in our understanding of how these molecular structures mediate dynamic interfacial forces on the nanoscale and the material behaviour on a large scale. To go forward in the processing and control of soft matter, studies must focus on soft matter interfaces with the complexity of real world systems to push the boundaries of our understanding of soft matter systems to new levels. This requires careful selection of interfaces with growing degrees of complexity and innovative approaches that link nanoscale interfacial forces to macroscopic behaviour.

Two Phase Flow and Transport

Questions on the fluid flow in two phases systems (ie, two liquids or a liquid and a gas) and the transport of molecules to the interface between these phases is becoming more and more important as microfluidic devices as well as in minerals processing equipment such as froth floatation and solvent extraction. Atomic Force Microscopy methods, pioneered by our group, can be used to probe the fluid flow between drops or bubbles when materials are adsorbed in equilibrium with solution or with slow adsorption dynamics. We have recently expanded these methods to probe transport between phases as well as the resistance from surface-active coatings. This provides a platform to explore the stability of emulsions and foams from both coalescence and Ostwald Ripening effects critical to product stability in areas as diverse as processed foods and personal care products to ultrasound contrast agents and therapeutic gases.

Interfacial heterogeneity of emulsion droplets

The adsorption of surfactants, polymer and biological macromolecules, (proteins, polysaccharides, lipids, fatty acids, etc.) onto droplets or bubbles can often cross link to form networks larger than the molecular scale. This interfacial heterogeneity both parallel and normal to the interface gives the interface both elasticity and viscosity in response to perturbations from any type of deformation of the droplets or bubbles. This interfacial behaviour is a result of collective processes in a network of molecules across the interface. On a macroscopic scale, these phenomena are described as the interfacial rheology of the material. A number of techniques employ macroscopic perturbations including oscillating bubbles or drops, film pressure methods, and more novel approaches such as using a magnetic shear bar without a direct link to the nanoscale. This project will focus on developing new methods to study interfacial rheology using atomic force microscopy and link these studies to larger scale stability and rheology behaviour of emulsions and foams for applications in foods, personal care products and minerals processing.

Further information:

Controlled collKey nanoscale interations of drops, particles and bubbles