That isn't tea, but the paradox still applies: Dispersing gold nanoparticles in an aqueous chlorine solution. (Courtesy: Ai Du)
Topics: Aerogels, Einstein, Materials Science, Nanomaterials, Soft Materials
If you stir a colloidal solution containing nanoparticles, you might expect the particles to disperse evenly through the liquid. But that’s not what happens. Instead, the particles end up concentrated in a specific region and may even clump together. This unexpected result is an example of Einstein’s tea leaf paradox, and the researchers at Tongji University in China who discovered it – quite by accident – say it could be used to collect particles or molecules for detection in a dilute solution. Importantly, it could also be used to make aerogels for technological applications.
We usually stir a liquid to evenly disperse the substances in it. The phenomenon known as Einstein’s tea leaf paradox describes a reverse effect in which the leaves in a well-stirred cup of tea instead become concentrated in a doughnut-shaped area and gather at the bottom center of the cup once stirring ceases. While this paradox has been known about for more than 100 years and is understood to be caused by a secondary flow effect, there are few studies on how it manifests for nanoparticles in a stirred solution.
Researchers led by Ai Du of the School of Physics, Science, and Engineering at Tongji University in Shanghai have now simulated how gold nanoparticle spheres dispersed in water move when the solution is stirred. When they calculated the flow velocity distribution of the fluid, they found that the rate at which the particles moved appeared to follow the fluid’s flow velocity.
“Interestingly, by dividing the whole container into several sectors, we also observed that the high-velocity region driven by the stirrer was also the region in which the particles aggregated,” explains Du. “We think that this phenomenon is probably due to direct ‘squeezing’ of the liquid created by the stirrer and comes from the mass differences between the nanoparticles and the liquid phase.”
Einstein’s tea leaf paradox could help make aerogels, Isabelle Dumé, Physics World.