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Nanoemulsions obtained via bubble-bursting at a compound interface


Bursting of bubbles at an air/liquid interface is a familiar occurrence relevant to foam stability, cell cultures in bioreactors and ocean–atmosphere mass transfer. In the latter case, bubble-bursting leads to the dispersal of sea-water aerosols in the surrounding air. Here we show that bubbles bursting at a compound air/oil/water-with-surfactant interface can disperse submicrometre oil droplets in water. Dispersal results from the detachment of an oil spray from the bottom of the bubble towards water during bubble collapse. We provide evidence that droplet size is selected by physicochemical interactions between oil molecules and the surfactants rather than by hydrodynamics. We demonstrate the unrecognized role that this dispersal mechanism may play in the fate of the sea surface microlayer and of pollutant spills by dispersing petroleum in the water column. Finally, our system provides an energy-efficient route, with potential upscalability, for applications in drug delivery, food production and materials science.

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Figure 1: Bubble-bursting at an air/oil/water interface.
Figure 2: High-speed observations of the bursting process and schematic descriptions for the dispersal mechanism.
Figure 3: Influence of oil layer thickness (hI), bubble diameter (db), viscosity of oil (ηo) and carbon number of the oil (Nc) on the radius (r) of the submicrometre-sized droplets.
Figure 4: Sketch of different wetting states and formation of petroleum dispersal and polymeric submicrometre particles.


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We acknowledge the contribution of S. C. Russev from Department of Solid State Physics & Microelectronics, Sofia University, Bulgaria, who helped us with the interpretation of the ellipsometric data and R. D. Stanimirova from Department of Chemical Engineering, Sofia University, Bulgaria, who performed measurements in a Langmuir trough and some spreading experiments. We also acknowledge R. K. Prud’homme from Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering (Princeton University) for the use of the Malvern Zetasizer. T.D.G. and S.D.S. acknowledge the financial support of EU project FP7-REGPOT-2011-1, ‘Beyond Everest’. M.R. acknowledges D. Langevin for fruitful discussions. This research was made possible in part by the CMEDS grant from BP/The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative.

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Authors and Affiliations



J.F., M.R., L.N.A., S.D.S. and H.A.S. conceived of and planned the experiments. J.F. executed the experimental work. J.F., M.R. and H.A.S. wrote the manuscript. J.F. and D.V. analysed the DLS data. J.F., M.R., L.N.A., S.D.S., T.D.G. and H.A.S. analysed and interpreted the experimental results. T.D.G. and G.G.T. performed ellipsometry measurements. All authors reviewed the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Howard A. Stone.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Feng, J., Roché, M., Vigolo, D. et al. Nanoemulsions obtained via bubble-bursting at a compound interface. Nature Phys 10, 606–612 (2014).

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