Flow Electrification in Nonaqueous Colloidal Suspensions, studied with Video Microscopy

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Flow electrification in nonaqueous suspensions has been scarcely reported in the literature but can significantly affect colloidal stability and (phase) behavior, perhaps even without being recognized. We have observed it in shear flow experiments on concentrated binary suspensions of hydrophobized silica particles in chloroform. In this low-polarity solvent, electrical charges on the large-particles' surfaces manifest themselves via long-ranged forces, because hardly any screening can take place through counterions. By shearing the suspension for a prolonged time, we could demonstrate that the effective interactions between the large particles change from weakly attractive (due to the small particles) to strongly repulsive (due to acquired Coulomb interactions). One of the conditions required for flow electrification was the presence of a glass surface in the shear cell. A spectacular manifestation of the phenomenon was observed with confocal video microscopy. First, the formation of large-particle aggregates was seen, while subsequently (over a long shearing time) the aggregates disintegrated into small entities, mostly primary particles. The spatial distribution of these entities in the quiescent state after stopping the flow showed evidence for acquired long-range repulsion. The occurrence of flow electrification was further corroborated by control experiments, where no flow was imposed, antistatic agent was added, or the glass bottom was coated with a conducting (indium tin oxide, ITO) layer: here, the aggregates kept growing until they became very large. To further diagnose the phenomenon, we have also done experiments in which an external electric field was applied (via the ITO layer) to an aggregated suspension. When the lower electrode was given the lowest potential, the aggregates were found to move away from the bottom and disintegrate. The qualitative similarity hereof with the flow electrification experiment suggests that in the latter, the glass acquired negative charges. After prolonged application of an external electric field, we observed segregation into regions enriched in large particles and regions completely depleted of them. In the quiescent fluid these regions exist as isolated units, but in shear flow they merge into bands, a behavior which resembles shear banding.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8460-8467
Number of pages8
Issue number20
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • METIS-218183
  • IR-73624


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