Contacts: Dr. Stoyan Smoukov, Active & Intelligent Materials Lab, Materials Science & Metallurgy, University of Cambridge and University of Sofia
Mentor: Dr. Bob Pettigrew

Reference: The Emulsion Arrow of Time

Emulsions are everywhere, in cosmetic creams and shampoos, in foods such as ice cream and mayonnaise, and in pharmaceutical products. These are intrinsically unstable formulations, with emulsion droplets tending to coalesce as the product ages. The size of droplet also affects the macroscopic properties such as colour, with transparent products needing much smaller nano-droplets and therefore being more difficult to produce and store – this is why most emulsions appear milky-white, since that is the colour produced by the micro-droplets that are easiest to produce.

Dr Smoukov and his team have developed a technique which allows smaller droplets to form at low temperatures, using standard emulsive additives of water, soap (surfactant) and oil, and small fluctuations in the surrounding temperature. Traditionally small emulsion molecules are created using mechanical forces, which limits the chemical formulations which can be emulsified, or techniques which use large amounts of surfactant. This new technique uses <1% of the volume of surfactant, making it more cost-effective and ensuring the end product contains more of the desired components. It builds on the group’s previous work on droplet shape changes in emulsions.

The i-Teams role is to identify a wide range of possible uses for this technique, and to contact experts from the relevant market sectors to ascertain where the research team should focus their commercialisation efforts in the short term and in the longer term. These are expected to include health and beauty products, food and drink, industrial products and pharmaceutical products.