Letters to Nature

Nature 423, 156-159 (8 May 2003) | doi:10.1038/nature01591; Received 17 December 2002; Accepted 21 March 2003

Spreading of nanofluids on solids

Darsh T. Wasan & Alex D. Nikolov

  1. Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, Illinois 60616, USA

Correspondence to: Darsh T. Wasan Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to D.T.W. (Email: wasan@iit.edu).

Suspensions of nanometre-sized particles (nanofluids) are used in a variety of technological contexts. For example, their spreading and adhesion behaviour on solid surfaces can yield materials with desirable structural and optical properties1. Similarly, the spreading behaviour of nanofluids containing surfactant micelles has implications for soil remediation, oily soil removal, lubrication and enhanced oil recovery. But the well-established concepts of spreading and adhesion of simple liquids do not apply to nanofluids2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Theoretical investigations have suggested that a solid-like ordering of suspended spheres will occur in the confined three-phase contact region at the edge of the spreading fluid, becoming more disordered and fluid-like towards the bulk phase8, 9. Calculations have also suggested that the pressure arising from such colloidal ordering in the confined region will enhance the spreading behaviour of nanofluids10, 11. Here we use video microscopy to demonstrate both the two-dimensional crystal-like ordering of charged nanometre-sized polystyrene spheres in water, and the enhanced spreading dynamics of a micellar fluid, at the three-phase contact region. Our findings suggest a new mechanism for oily soil removal—detergency.