Contact Forces between TiO2 Nanoparticles Governed by an Interplay of Adsorbed Water Layers and Roughness

J Laube and S Salameh and M Kappl and L Madler and LC Ciacchi, LANGMUIR, 31, 11288-11295 (2015).

DOI: 10.1021/acs.langmuir.5b02989

Interparticle forces govern the mechanical behavior of granular matter and direct the hierarchical assembling of nanoparticles into supramolecular structures. Understanding how these forces change under different ambient conditions would directly benefit industrial-scale nanoparticle processing units such as filtering and fluidization. Here we rationalize and quantify the contributions of dispersion, capillary, and solvation forces between hydrophilic TiO2 nanoparticles with sub-10 nm diameter and show that the humidity dependence of the interparticle forces is governed by a delicate interplay between the structure of adsorbed water layers and the surface roughness. All-atom molecular dynamics modeling supported by force-spectroscopy experiments reveals an unexpected decrease in the contact forces at increasing humidity for nearly spherical particles, while the forces between rough particles are insensitive to strong humidity changes. Our results also frame the limits of applicability of discrete solvation and continuum capillary theories in a regime where interparticle forces are dominated by the molecular nature of surface adsorbates.

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