Self-Propelled Supracolloidal Fibers from Multifunctional Polymer Surfactants and Droplets

Jing Zhao, Cristiam Fernando Santa Chalarca, Janine K. Nunes, Howard A. Stone, Todd Emrick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Advanced synthetic materials are needed to produce nano- and mesoscale structures that function autonomously, catalyze reactions, and convert chemical energy into motion. This paper describes supracolloidal fiber-like structures that are composed of self-adhering, or “sticky,” oil-in-water emulsion droplets. Polymer zwitterion surfactants serve as the key interfacial components of these materials, enabling multiple functions simultaneously, including acting as droplet-stabilizing surfactants, interdroplet adhesives, and building blocks of the fibers. This fiber motion, a surprising additional feature of these supracolloidal structures, is observed at the air–water interface and hinged on the chemistry of the polymer surfactant. The origin of this motion is hypothesized to involve transport of polymer from the oil–water interface to the air–water interface, which generates a Marangoni (interfacial) stress. Harnessing this fiber motion with functional polymer surfactants, and selection of the oil phase, produced worm-like objects capable of rotation, oscillation, and/or response to external fields. Overall, these supracolloidal fibers fill a design gap between self-propelled nano/microscale particles and macroscale motors, and have the potential to serve as new components of soft, responsive materials structures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2000334
JournalMacromolecular Rapid Communications
Issue number15
StatePublished - Aug 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Materials Chemistry
  • Polymers and Plastics
  • Organic Chemistry


  • Marangoni flow
  • adhesive emulsions
  • polymer zwitterions
  • self-propelled fibers
  • supracolloidal materials


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