If you want to learn a little something about 'characteristic curvature', you're in the right place.   Hydrophilic surfactants love water, but lipophilic surfactants love oils and dislike water.

Okay, if you were expecting an article about Jessica Alba, you can stop reading.

But if chemistry is your thing, a new research protocol developed by Dr. Acosta and colleagues from the University of Toronto's Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry builds on more than 30 years of phase behavior studies of microemulsions, the clear, stable liquid mixtures of oil, water and surfactant, and the concept of hydrophilic-lipophilic difference.

characteristic curvature using jessica alba and hydrophilics
Accurate understanding of characteristic curvature versus inaccurate understanding of characteristic curvature.

In the world of soap and detergent research,  how much a surfactant hates or loves water makes a big difference.

"Surfactants are extremely versatile but largely misunderstood molecules," said Acosta. "In our article, we described a simple method to characterize one of their properties – their relative hydrophilic/lipophilic nature."

The Characteristic Curvature: The New Parameter

"The new parameter, the 'characteristic curvature,' will tell you if a given surfactant is hydrophilic or lipophilic, but more importantly, you can use it to predict important properties of surfactant-oil-water systems," said Acosta.  "In our lab, the characteristic curvature has simplified our work tremendously. For example, we used it to understand how to work with complex surfactant mixtures extracted from acid crude oils (naphthenates). We also used it to design hard surface cleaners and washing solutions for a range of substrates (oils) and cleaning conditions.

"It is now part of our routine studies and we expect that it will be useful to colleagues involved in soap and detergent research."

Article: Edgar Acosta, Art Bhakta and Jessica Yuan, "The Characteristic Curvature of Ionic Surfactants" was published in the July 2008 edition of the Journal of Surfactants and Detergents (11:145-158).

The researchers  are the recipients of the 2008 Soap and Detergent Association (SDA) Distinguished Paper Award, which recognizes the most outstanding research article published in the Journal of Surfactants and Detergents.  Sponsored by SDA and the Surfactants and Detergents Division of the American Oil Chemists' Society (AOCS), the award was presented at AOCS' 100th Annual Meeting and Expo in Orlando, Florida.