Modelling the interfacial behaviour of dilute light-switching surfactant solutions

Carmelo Herdes, Erik E. Santiso, Craig James, Julian Eastoe, Erich A. Müller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Citations (SciVal)


The direct molecular modelling of an aqueous surfactant system at concentrations below the critical micelle concentration (pre-cmc) conditions is unviable in terms of the presently available computational power. Here, we present an alternative that combines experimental information with tractable simulations to interrogate the surface tension changes with composition and the structural behaviour of surfactants at the water-air interface. The methodology is based on the expression of the surface tension as a function of the surfactant surface excess, both in the experiments and in the simulations, allowing direct comparisons to be made. As a proof-of-concept a coarse-grained model of a light switching non-ionic surfactant bearing a photosensitive azobenzene group is considered at the air-water interface at 298. K. Coarse-grained molecular dynamic simulations are detailed based on the use of the SAFT force field with parameters tuned specifically for this purpose. An excellent agreement is obtained between the simulation predictions and experimental observations; furthermore, the molecular model allows the rationalization of the macroscopic behaviour in terms of the different conformations of the cis and trans surfactants at the surface.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-23
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Colloid and Interface Science
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2015


  • Amphiphiles
  • CMC
  • Coarse graining
  • Complex fluids
  • Molecular dynamics
  • Molecular simulation
  • SAFT
  • Surface tension


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