Partly for this reason, I volunteered to read and review the book for Technical Communication. This brings me to the focus of this post- surfactants. Apparently surfactants are used to solve a nanotechnology/quantum problem. This is fascinating to me because the two areas of science seem so distant from each other, yet apparently in this case, someone wrote a patent using surfactants for their more electricity/nano oriented problem. (This also gives you an idea of where I get ideas for these posts. Usually I'm reading about something that sparks my interest into writing about a related topic.)
Surfactants help make something intermix with something else. The most obvious example of this is when you are washing your dishes. (Believe me, I'm the queen of DLD right now as a stay-at-home mom- this is coined as DLD or "dinner, laundry, dishes") You have a stack of plates covered in greasy, leftover food. Hopefully, you remove the excess food before you place them in hot, soapy water to wash. Why not just hot water? In most cases, some of the grease is still left if you just wash them in hot water. On a molecular level, here is why:
The grease on the plates is full of hydrogen/carbon chains that have the properties of something "hydrophobic." Generally, the chemical properties of carbon/hydrogen don't mix with the properties of water (made of hydrogen and oxygen). This is related to the concept of polarity/electronegativity that is discussed here in my other blog.Generally, polar compounds mix evenly with other polar compounds and nonpolar compounds (pure covalent compounds) mix with other nonpolar compounds. Water is extremely polar while any kind of grease or fat is extremely nonpolar.
The detergent molecules (surfactants) create an interface between the polar and nonpolar so that the grease molecules can be removed from the place. The detergent generally has a polar head that will "stick" to the polar water molecules while it has a nonpolar carbon/hydrogen tail which will "stick" to the grease molecules. By intermixing with both polar and nonpolar components of the grease/water mixture the soap is able to engulf the grease and send it down the sink.
Here is a picture of nonpolar greasy molecules in the same container with polar molecules:
I have discussed polarity and dipole moments in other posts. Here are links:
Ionic and Covalent Bonding