Probing colloidal forces between a Si < inf> 3 N < inf> 4 AFM tip and single nanoparticles of silica and alumina

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The atomic force microscope (AFM) has been used to measure surface forces between silicon nitride AFM tips and individual nanoparticles deposited on substrates in 10-4 and 10-2 M KCl solutions. Silica nanoparticles (10 nm diameter) were deposited on an alumina substrate and alumina particles (5 to 80 nm diameter) were deposited on a mica substrate using aqueous suspensions. Ionic concentrations and pH were used to manage attractive substrate-particle electrostatic forces. The AFM tip was located on deposited nanoparticles using an operator controlled offset to achieve stepwise tip movements. Nanoparticles were found to have a negligible effect on long-range tip-substrate interactions, however, the forces between the tip and nanoparticle were detectable at small separations. Exponentially increasing short-range repulsive forces, attributed to the hydration forces, were observed for silica nanoparticles. The effective range of hydration forces was found to be 2-3 nm with the decay length of 0.8-1.3 nm. These parameters are in a good agreement with the results reported for macroscopic surfaces of silica obtained using the surface force apparatus suggesting that hydration forces for the silica nanoparticles are similar to those for flat silica surfaces. Hydration forces were not observed for either alumina substrates or alumina nanoparticles in both 10-4 M KCl solution at pH 6.5 and 10-2 M KCl at pH 10.2. Instead, strong attractive forces between the silicon nitride tip and the alumina (nanoparticles and substrate) were observed. © 2006 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Journal of Colloid and Interface Science