Destribats M., Lapeyre V., Sellier E., Leal-Calderon F., Schmitt V., Ravaine V.
Langmuir 2011, 27(23), 14096-14107

Emulsions were prepared using poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) microgels as thermoresponsive stabilizers. The latter are well-known for their sensitivity to temperature: they are swollen by water below the so-called volume phase transition temperature (VPTT = 33 °C) and shrink when heated above it. Most of the studies reported in the literature reveal that the corresponding emulsions are of the oil-in-water type (O/W) and undergo fast destabilization upon warming above the VPTT. In the present study, whereas O/W emulsions were obtained with a wide panel of oils of variable polarity and were all thermoresponsive, water-in-oil (W/O) emulsions were found only in the presence of fatty alcohols and did not exhibit any thermal sensitivity. To understand the peculiar behavior of emulsions based on fatty alcohols, we investigated the organization of microgels at the oil–water interface and we studied the interactions of pNIPAM microgels with octanol. By combining several microscopy methods and by exploiting the limited coalescence process, we provided evidence that W/O emulsions are stabilized by multilayers of nondeformed microgels located inside the aqueous drops. Such behavior is in contradiction with the empirical Finkle rule stating that the continuous phase of the preferred emulsion is the one in which the stabilizer is preferentially dispersed. The study of microgels in nonemulsified binary water/octanol systems revealed that octanol diffused through the aqueous phase and was incorporated in the microgels. Thus, W/O emulsions were stabilized by microgels whose properties were substantially different from the native ones. In particular, after octanol uptake, they were no longer thermoresponsive, which explained the loss of responsiveness of the corresponding W/O emulsions. Finally, we showed that the incorporation of octanol modified the interfacial properties of the microgels: the higher the octanol uptake before emulsification, the lower the amount of particles in direct contact with the interface. The multilayer arrangement was thus necessary to ensure efficient stabilization against coalescence, as it increased interface cohesiveness. We discussed the origin of this counterexample of the Finkle’s rule.