September 9, 2005
Study Done of How Soap Clings to Water
EUGENE, Ore. (AP) -- Scientists have learned how molecules found in many soaps and detergents cling to the surface of water, which may help develop better methods for cleaning up environmental hazards.
The molecules are known as "surfactants" and are among the most useful chemicals in the world, found in products ranging from motor oil to cosmetics, said Geri Richmond, a University of Oregon chemist who led the research.
They are also key ingredients for environmental clean-up and oil recovery, she said.
Using a unique combination of laser-based experiments and computer modeling, her research team discovered how the surfactants tilt and twist in order to stay on the surface.
The study adds insights into research on how the surfactant molecules can actually change the properties of water at the surface.
Richmond compared the molecules to hungry tadpoles that bury their heads in the oil or other contaminant on the surface and leave their tails sticking up out of the water.
"This is a general approach that has broad implications for a variety of chemically and biologically important applications," Richmond said.
Her lab specializes in the chemistry involved in semiconductor processing and environmental clean-up efforts. Funding for the research on surface chemistry came from the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research.
The study appears in the Sept. 8 issue of the Journal of Physical Chemistry B.
University of Oregon Materials Science Institute: http://materialscience.uoregon.edu/
Journal of Physical Chemistry B: http://acsinfo.acs.org/journals/jpcbfk/index.html