Destribats M., Lapeyre V, Wolfs M., Sellier E., Leal-Calderon F., Ravaine V., Schmitt V.
Soft Matter 2011, 7, 7689-7698 

We synthesised soft uncharged microgels made of poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) of variable cross-linking degrees and we probed their efficiency as stabilisers to fabricate oil-in-water emulsions. Interestingly, such particles undergo a swollen-to-collapsed transition above a critical temperature. By combining several microscopy methods and by exploiting the limited coalescence process, we were able to determine both the particle concentration and structure at the interface, as a function of the cross-linking density. Being deformable, the initially spherical microgels adopt a “fried egg-like” structure when adsorbed at the oil/water interface. As expected, the interfacial deformation is increasingly pronounced as the cross-linking degree decreases. The most deformable microgels tend to form 2D connected networks characterised by significant overlapping of the peripheral parts. When the deformability is lost, by increasing the cross-linking density or the temperature, the stabilisation efficiency is considerably reduced. Our results strongly suggest that emulsion stability is mainly determined by the microgels' deformability and we discuss the origin of that empirical link in terms of lateral overlapping and interfacial elasticity.