New nanoscale research out of Rice University

By Deanna Utroske

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New nanoscale research out of Rice University
In a paper published just this month, Sibani Lisa Biswal and Elaa Hilou share data on what they believe to be “the first study to measure the tunable interfacial stiffness of a 2D colloidal cluster by controlling particle interactions using external fields.” Their work is expected to have applications in industries including food and cosmetics.

The paper, titled ‘Interfacial energetics of two-dimensional colloidal clusters generated with a tunable anharmonic interaction potential’, appears in volume 2, issue 2 of Physical Review Materials, a peer-reviewed physics journal. Sibani Lisa Biswal and Elaa Hilou along with Di Du, Steve Kuei are listed as authors of the paper.

According to the abstract“Interfacial characteristics are critical to various properties of two-dimensional materials….Despite the desire to harness these enhanced interfacial properties for engineering new materials, unexpected phase transitions and defects, unique to the 2D morphology, have left a number of open questions.”

So, the researchers set out to answer some of those questions, principally the relationship between structure and thermodynamics.

Studying particle dynamics

How particles come together as well as the tension that determines their overall shape were of particular interest to Biswal and Hilou. Using rotating magnetic fields as the external force, the team set to work.

“Experiments revealed boundaries, shapes, phase transitions and the creation and resolution of crystal-like defects as between 300 and 1,500 magnetized spheres followed their energetic impulses under the moving field’s influence,” ​explains Mike Williams in an item about the research on

“We can create particle ensembles that are loosely to very tightly packed by the strength of that interaction,” ​Biswal tells Williams. To explain the tension that shapes the group of particles, she says, “Think about a soap bubble; It always forms a sphere, even when you try to deform it. That’s because surface tension wants to minimize its surface area. It’s the same for our system, but in two dimensions. The interactions are always trying to minimize what we call the line tension.”

Formulating beauty products

“Their findings could help researchers model colloids for cosmetics,” ​reports Williams. And, Hilou explains it this way: “Say you have oil and water and you want to phase-separate them. In the case of cosmetics and the food industry, you want the emulsions to be stable. We want to be able to mimic their dynamics by controlling particle size and the field strength.”



Deanna Utroske, Editor, covers beauty business news in the Americas region and publishes the weekly Indie Beauty Profile column, showcasing the inspiring work of entrepreneurs and innovative brands.

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