Adhesion Mechanisms of the Contact Interface of TiO2 Nanoparticles in Films and Aggregates

S Salameh and J Schneider and J Laube and A Alessandrini and P Facci and JW Seo and LC Ciacchi and L Madler, LANGMUIR, 28, 11457-11464 (2012).

DOI: 10.1021/la302242s

Fundamental knowledge about the mechanisms of adhesion between oxide particles with diameters of few nanometers is impeded by the difficulties associated with direct measurements of contact forces at such a small size scale. Here we develop a strategy based on AFM force spectroscopy combined with all-atom molecular dynamics simulations to quantify and explain the nature of the contact forces between 10 nm small TiO2 nanoparticles. The method is based on the statistical analysis of the force peaks measured in repeated approaching/retracting loops of an AFM cantilever into a film of nanoparticle agglomerates and relies on the in-situ imaging of the film stretching behavior in an AFM/TEM setup. Sliding and rolling events first lead to local rearrangements in the film structure when subjected to tensile load, prior to its final rupture caused by the reversible detaching of individual nanoparticles. The associated contact force of about 2.5 nN is in quantitative agreement with the results of molecular dynamics simulations of the particle-particle detachment. We reveal that the contact forces are dominated by the structure of water layers adsorbed on the particles' surfaces at ambient conditions. This leads to nonmonotonous force-displacement curves that can be explained only in part by classical capillary effects and highlights the importance of considering explicitly the molecular nature of the adsorbates.

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