Colloidal Stability of Apolar Nanoparticles: Role of Ligand Length

D Monego and T Kister and N Kirkwood and P Mulvaney and A Widmer-Cooper and T Kraus, LANGMUIR, 34, 12982-12989 (2018).

DOI: 10.1021/acs.langmuir.8b02883

Inorganic nanoparticle cores are often coated with organic ligands to render them dispersible in apolar solvents. However, the effect of the ligand shell on the colloidal stability of the overall hybrid particle is not fully understood. In particular, it is not known how the length of an apolar alkyl ligand chain affects the stability of a nanoparticle dispersion against agglomeration. Here, small-angle X-ray scattering and molecular dynamics simulations have been used to study the interactions between gold nanoparticles and between cadmium selenide nanoparticles passivated by alkanethiol ligands with 12-18 carbons in the solvent decane. We find that increasing the ligand length increases colloidal stability in the core dominated regime but decreases it in the ligand- dominated regime. This unexpected inversion is connected to the transition from ligand-dominated to core-dominated agglomeration when the core diameter increases at constant ligand length. Our results provide a microscopic picture of the forces that determine the colloidal stability of apolar nanoparticles and explain why classical colloid theory fails.

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