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Spiropyran Sulfonates for Photo- and pH-Responsive Air–Water Interfaces and Aqueous Foam

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posted on 2020-02-24, 20:03 authored by Marco Schnurbus, Malgorzata Kabat, Ewelina Jarek, Marcel Krzan, Piotr Warszynski, Björn Braunschweig
Responsive foams and interfaces are interesting building blocks for active materials that respond and adapt to external stimuli. We have used the photochromic reaction of a spiropyran sulfonate surfactant to render interfacial, rising bubbles as well as foaming properties active to light stimuli. In order to address the air–water interface on a molecular level, we have applied sum-frequency generation (SFG) spectroscopy which has provided qualitative information on the surface excess and the interfacial charging state as a function of light irradiation and solution pH. Under blue light irradiation, the surfactant forms a closed ring spiro form (SP), whereas under dark conditions the ring opens and the merocyanine (MC) form is generated. Using SFG spectroscopy, we show that at the interface, different pH conditions of the bulk solution lead to changes in the interfacial charging state. We have exploited the fact that the MC surfactant’s O–H group can be deprotonated as a function of pH and used that to tune the molecules net charge at the interface. In fact, SFG spectroscopy shows that with increasing pH the intensity of the O–H stretching band from interfacial water molecules increases, which we associate to an increase in surface net charge. At a pH of 5.3, irradiation with blue light leads to a reversible decrease of O–H intensities, whereas the C–H intensities were unchanged compared to the corresponding intensities under dark conditions. These results are indicative of changes in the surface net charge with light irradiation, which are also expected to influence the foam stability via changes in the electrostatic disjoining pressure. In fact, measurements of the foam stabilities are consistent with this hypothesis and show higher foam stability under dark conditions. At pH 2.7 this behavior is reversed as far as the surface tension and surface charging as well as the foam stability are concerned. This is corroborated by rising bubble experiments, which demonstrated an unprecedented reduction of ∼30% in bubble velocity when the bubbles were irradiated with blue light compared to the velocity of bubbles with the surfactants in the dark state. Clearly, the light-triggered changes can be used to control foams, rising bubbles, and fluid interfaces on a molecular level which renders them active to light stimuli.

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