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Portrait of Tommy Nylander. Photo: Kennet Ruona

Tommy Nylander


Portrait of Tommy Nylander. Photo: Kennet Ruona

Effects of Aggregates on Mixed Adsorption Layers of Poly(ethylene imine) and Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate at the Air/Liquid Interface


  • Katrin Tonigold
  • Imre Varga
  • Tommy Nylander
  • Richard Campbell

Summary, in English

We have exploited the spatial and kinetic resolution of ellipsometry to monitor the lateral movement of inhomogeneous patches of material in mixed adsorption layers of poly(ethylene imine) and sodium dodecyl sulfate at the air/liquid interface. We show that the choice of sample preparation methods can have a profound effect on the state of the interface for chemically equivalent samples. The extent of aggregation in the bulk solution on relevant time scales is affected by specific details of the polymer/surfactant mixing process, which produces varying numbers of aggregates that can become trapped in the interfacial layer, resulting in an enhanced and fluctuating ellipsometry signal. It can be beneficial to apply the surface-cleaning method of aspiration prior to physical measurements to remove trapped aggregates through the creation of a fresh interface. At low pH, the ellipsometry signal of samples prepared with surface cleaning is remarkably constant over a factor of >500 in the bulk composition below charge equivalence, which is discussed in terms of possible adsorption mechanisms. At high pH, through observing temporal fluctuations in the ellipsometry signal of samples prepared with surface cleaning, we reveal two important processes: there is the spontaneous adsorption of aggregates >0.2 mum in diameter into the interfacial layer, and with time there is the fusion of smaller aggregates to generate new large surface aggregates. We attribute the favorability of the adsorption and fusion processes at high pH to reduced electrostatic barriers resulting from the low surface charge density of the aggregates. It is inappropriate in this case to consider the interface to comprise a homogeneous adsorption layer that is in dynamic equilibrium with the bulk solution. Our work shows that it can be helpful to consider whether there are macroscopic particles embedded in molecular layers at the air/liquid interface for systems where there is prior knowledge of aggregation in the bulk phase.


  • Physical Chemistry

Publishing year












Document type

Journal article


The American Chemical Society (ACS)


  • Physical Chemistry




  • ISSN: 0743-7463