American Chemical Society
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Wormlike Micelles of a Cationic Surfactant in Polar Organic Solvents: Extending Surfactant Self-Assembly to New Systems and Subzero Temperatures

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journal contribution
posted on 2019-09-17, 11:34 authored by Niti R. Agrawal, Xiu Yue, Yujun Feng, Srinivasa R. Raghavan
Wormlike micelles (WLMs) are long, flexible cylindrical chains formed by the self-assembly of surfactants in semidilute solutions. Scientists have been fascinated by WLMs because of their similarities to polymers, while at the same time, the viscoelastic properties of WLM solutions have made them useful in a variety of industrial applications. To date, most studies on WLMs have been performed in water (i.e., a highly polar liquid), while there are a few examples of “reverse” WLMs in oils (i.e., highly nonpolar liquids). However, in organic solvents with lower polarity than water such as glycerol, formamide, and ethylene glycol, there have been no reports of WLMs thus far. Here, we show that it is indeed possible to induce a long-tailed cationic surfactant to assemble into WLMs in several of these solvents. To form WLMs, the surfactant is combined with a “binding” salt, i.e., one with a large organic counterion that is capable of binding to the micelles. Examples of such salts include sodium salicylate and sodium tosylate, and we find self-assembly to be maximized when the surfactant and salt concentrations are near-equimolar. Interestingly, the addition of a simple, inorganic salt such as sodium chloride (NaCl) to the same surfactant does not induce WLMs in polar solvents (although it does so in water). Thus, the design rules for WLM formation in polar solvents are distinct from those in water. Aqueous WLMs have been characterized at temperatures from 25 °C and above, but few studies have examined WLMs at much lower (e.g., subzero) temperatures. Here, we have selected a surfactant with a very low Krafft point (i.e., the surfactant does not crystallize out of solution upon cooling due to a cis-unsaturation in its tail) and a low-freezing solvent, viz. a 90/10 mixture of glycerol and ethylene glycol. In these mixtures, we find evidence for WLMs that persist down to temperatures as low as −20 °C. Rheological techniques as well as small-angle neutron scattering (SANS) have been used to characterize the WLMs under these conditions. Much like their aqueous counterparts, WLMs in polar solvents show viscoelastic properties, and accordingly, these fluids could find applications as synthetic lubricants or as improved antifreezing fluids.