Careful preparation to see the unknown!
After 10 years of flight Rosetta reached Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Great pictures of the unknown reached us and more are following including analysis of the material itself. What effort, precision and time has been spent to obtain this unique insights! (Note: original and best picture by ESA (link) has restrictions, shown is a simulation (link).
Do we know our surfaces?
When I saw the original wonderful picture of the comet I had a strange association: we are amazed to see the surface of this comet out in space but we are reluctant that here on earth many surfaces in chemical applications remain rather unknown. One example: new soil release polymers are developed to enhance the removal of stains during washing. Yes, chemically the composition of these new molecules is known. Yes, it is also tested how well stains are removed. Is this enough to guide the researchers for really innovative products?
The value of better insights
How would it be if the researcher would know if and how these new soil release polymers adsorb on the fibres? Is there a monolayer? Is the distribution uniform? Does it penetrate into the thread or not? How is the cause and effect of modifications?
And there are many more examples: dispersing agents on pigments and fillers, corrosion inhibitors, cleaning agents, flotation in mining and so on...
Surface analysis is possible!
I know, analysis of the surface is not easy and sometimes maybe even a waste of time (and money). But compared to Rosetta’s mission, todays surface analysis is much more easy – and probably much easier than you think.
For example 2D images of chemical composition of the first few nm of surfaces can be obtained by advanced time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectroscopy (ToF-SIMS). The scanning mode provides lateral resolutions up to 200 nm! And depth profiles might be taken, too. X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), also known as ESCA (electron spectroscopy for chemical analysis) is best suited for quantitative results. And there are more tools available...
Overcome trial and error
It is my passion to find the best tools for surface analysis and facilitate real understanding - to supplement application tests and overcome trial and error. And sometimes even a smart, colored SEM picture explains just what you want say to your customer or your management.
Enjoy Rosetta’s mission and your own insights!
That was really a surprise - and a nice one!!!
During the startup seminar of b-innovative we, the participants, were asked to provide a 2-3 page summary of our business idea.
As usual, when the idea is not settled, tested and proven, hesitation is there and uncertainty ... should I really describe how it might look like, even if it most likely will turn out differently?
Well, I made it! Described my first business plan - a short version, but nevertheless.
A second seminar was done to receive more applications (and more competition for me ...) and finally - my business idea and plan was chosen as the best and most convincing one! Surprise!
True, it is not the most prestigious price (did anyone hear about it before?) and the money doesn't go far, but still, it is a nice encouragement.
Currently the third round of seminars, or cohorts as it's called, is on its way. Check the details including my gratification here -> b-innovative .
Our Learnings from this seminar
And "getting out" is, what I am currently doing.
Thanks for reading through!
Use IGC to discover hair treatment and damages
Inverse Gas Chromatography (IGC) was the analytical tool of choice for surface characterizations of hair (and hair treatment), pigments (compatibility) and silica (for tyres). These were some of the interesting insights of the IGC Symposium, April 10th in Frankfurt organized by Adscientis and Inolytix, http://inverse-chromatography.com/.
Dr. von Vacano, BASF, showcased physical characterization studies of native, bleached and treated hair using AFM, XPS, ZP (surface charge) and IGC. The dispersive surface energy measured by IGC is the best indicator for surface damage with low statistical errors and the best quantification. Even the promotion of a new product uses the evidence by IGC. The combination of all methods provided a thorough understanding of hair damages and conditioning.
Measurements of pigment surfaces
Dr. Gebhardt, DSM Coating Resins, presented measurements of pigment surfaces by IGC and some surprising findings in term of acid/base character, nano-roughness and specific chemical interactions. The question behind this study was the compatibility to the resin matrix, the coating formulation and treatment of the pigments. The results, like basic properties and high affinities to nitrile, amide and carbamate groups, can be used to optimise pigment-coating systems. Pigment suppliers were encouraged to share information about surface treatment and potentially collaborate.
The next generation of energy saving tyres
Dr. L. Guy, Solvay, explained the challenges to develop next generation of energy saving tyres and the interactions between silica surface, carbon black and the polymer nature. The use of IGC is key to understand these interactions. Useful are the different techniques as IGC-ID (infinite dilution) to measure dispersive surface energy and IGC-FC (finite concentration) to measure the surface heterogeneity and e.g. BET with alkenes instead of N2.
Highly qualified experts delivering additional applications
Additional background information and further applications of IGC was provided by professors of different universities. The introduction was presented by Dr. H. Balard, who started using IGC in the year 1978 and published 52 articles on IGC.
Altogether, this was an inspiring symposium with highly qualified experts. There is no fancy new equipment behind IGC (which may explain the lack of broader interest…), but simply a really valuable methodology and expertise. Personally, I am certain that more and more R&D departments will take advantage of it – sooner or later.
That was my initial reaction when I first heard about iGC. I learned then, that the trick about „inverse“ is that particles and fibres of unknown surface characteristic are filled INSIDE the column of a GC and probes of well-defined gases are pulsed over them. The interaction of different gases with the surface provide the retention times and tailing – and thereby quantitative values for dispersive surface energy, polar contributions, acid/base properties at surface level or a „nanoroughness“ by comparing linear and branched alkanes – amazing!
OK, another method, but where can I use it and why?
Surfaces determine the quality of many products, the compatibility of silica in rubber, pigments in plastic or even (or especially) the feeling of hair. Most often the application is measured, but the real understanding of what changed at surface level is lacking. This is innovation by chance and product optimization by trial and error. And beside product invention or optimization there are often other obscure problems: batch-to-batch variations, dispersion behaviour or unexpected changes by milling. What happened to my product?
Is iGC complicated?
YES and NO. No, because the equipment is basically a GC - not more required. YES, because the preparation, experimentation and interpretation requires experience and a real understanding of the underlying theory. Especially with iGC the saying is true that real value is in the expert and not in the instrument. By chance I found Eric Brendle from Adscientis who explored iGC during his PhD more than ten years ago. Since then he has explored many different surfaces with passion and skills. Not surprising, we are collaborating!
Sure, iGC can not answer all questions, ...
... but it is truely an interesting method to characterize surfaces at molecular level. On April, 10th, 2014 a mini-Symposium in Frankfurt with speakers from BASF, DSM, Solvay and several professors will shed more light on a few applications. A good chance to talk to practitioners and academics. There is still the chance to register -> http://inverse-chromatography.com
Surfaces are truely remarkable.
Only a few layers of molecules in the range of nm determine the success – or the failure – of everyday products. Interesting how difficult it is to measure – and how little we know in many cases.