Designing the colloids of tomorrow

28 May 2019

A Horizon 2020 training project is working with the next generation of scientists to design the colloidal materials of the future.
Georgina Hines

You can’t see them, but colloids are all around you – from the shampoo you wash your hair with and the medication you take, to the ice-cream you eat on a sunny day. In fact, they play an essential role in the design of countless products.

Colloids are a mixture where a dispersed solution – a substance that is divided into colloidal particles around 10-9m to 10-6m in size – is suspended in another substance. They can take the form of a solid, liquid or gas.  

Take muddy water as an example. The dispersed solutions of colloid particles are the sand and clay, and the medium is water. Unlike a traditional suspension, a colloidal solution will not settle and separate over time. The four classifications of colloids are sols, emulsions, foams and aerosols.

Colloids are an indispensable tool for a variety of industries, including food, pharmaceuticals and consumer products, due to their ability to extend the shelf-life of products, amongst other valuable properties. Now, scientists are looking at how colloidal systems can enhance the products and needs of the future through the €4m COLLDENSE project.

Colloids made-to-order

In order to answer the next pressing questions in colloid chemistry, COLLDENSE, which stands for COLLoids with DEsigned respoNSE, has issued 15 PhD students across Europe to design the colloids of tomorrow.

The EU-funded project consists of: seven academic partners, including the Universities of Edinburgh and Cambridge; two industry partners, which are Unilever and Solvay; and six countries – the UK, France, Italy, Slovenia, Greece, and its coordinator, Austria.

Each COLLDENSE project will have its own individual impact on industry and shape how colloids will be used in the products we use every day. Projects are divided into three topics: deformable colloids, hybrid colloids and colloidal mixtures – all of which are predicted to influence the next wave of research in colloid chemistry.

An example of the projects include one led by the University of Edinburgh that looked at the viscosity of protein-stabilised emulsions that are often used in the food industry in products such as mayonnaise, ice cream and yogurt.

Another project – hosted by the University of Rome – focused on the simulation of synthetic clays, which often have technological applications and are used commonly in the construction industry in the form of bricks and cement.

‘We want to use colloids that do not just work but work exactly the way we want them to,’ said coordinator, Dr Sofia Kantorovich. ‘The novelty of COLLDENSE lies not only in the development of new experimental techniques, but also in the interdisciplinary and intersectoral interactions between the early stage researchers.’

COLLDENSE serves as a reminder of the importance of fundamental science in industry, and how the smallest things can influence our daily lives.

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