Cottrell Scholar Awards - 2015
Predicting the Stability of Pickering Emulsion through Computer Simulations
Emulsions are composed of immiscible fluids -- that is, fluids incapable of mixing or attaining homogeneity -- one of which is dispersed as droplets throughout the second. In chemistry, a Pickering emulsion is one that is stabilized by tiny solid particles which form a film on the interface between the molecules of the different liquids.
Generally more stable than basic emulsions, Pickering emulsions are found in crude oil as well as many food products. Understanding precisely how these emulsions work at the microscopic level would enable the design of new materials and allow researchers to increase the effectiveness of existing materials.
Timothy Atherton, assistant professor of physics at Tufts University, has received Cottrell Scholar funding to design and run computer simulations to identify the most significant physical factors affecting the stability of Pickering emulsions.
“In some applications, such as foods, stability is desirable,” he said. “In others, such as separating water from crude oil to prevent corrosion of refining equipment, a lack of stability would be useful. A deep understanding of what affects stability will help to characterize, troubleshoot, and optimize very complex commercial materials and industrial processes.”
Atherton is also using Cottrell Scholar funding to create an integrated approach to undergraduate computational physics education at Tufts through a new project-based Computational Physics course, and by integrating computation into Introductory Electromagnetism classes as well as by establishing a mentoring community to provide research experiences for a larger number of undergraduates.
“Computation is vitally important to physics for simulations, visualization and fitting complex models; and it is also a powerful teaching tool,” he said.