Depletion force in colloidal systems

Y Mao, M E Cates, H N W Lekkerkerker

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The entropic depletion force, in colloids, arises when large particles are placed in a solution of smaller ones, and sterically constrained to avoid them. We calculate the interaction between large spheres (of radius R) in a dilute solution of mutually avoiding small spheres (of diameter sigma much less than R and volume fraction phi), to third order in phi. In addition to the well-known attractive force for 0 < h < sigma, we find a repulsive barrier at larger separations, and beyond that a secondary minimum. Except for unusually large size ratios (perhaps abetted by relatively high density phi), these features of the interaction potential are too small, compared to k(B)T, for kinetic stabilization (arising from the barrier) or flocculation into the secondary minimum, to be widespread, although such effects are possible in principle. For feasible size ratios, the same features should have observable consequences for the radial distribution function of the large spheres. Such effects can be viewed as precursors, at low density, of liquidlike structuring (solvation forces) expected at higher phi. Our third order calculation gives satisfactory agreement with a recent computer simulation at moderate density and size ratio (2R/sigma = 10; phi = pi/15).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10-24
Number of pages15
JournalPhysica a-Statistical mechanics and its applications
Issue number1-4
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 1995


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