Preparation of aqueous core/polymer shell microcapsules by internal phase separation

Rob Atkin, Paul Davies, John Hardy, Brian Vincent

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Citations (Scopus)


Aqueous core/polymer shell microcapsules with mononuclear and polynuclear core morphologies have been formed by internal phase separation from water-in-oil emulsions. The water-in-oil emulsions were prepared with the shell polymer dissolved in the aqueous phase by adding a low boiling point cosolvent. Subsequent removal of this cosolvent (by evaporation) leads to phase separation of the polymer and, if the spreading conditions are correct, formation of a polymer shell encapsulating the aqueous core. Poly(tetrahydrofuran) (PTHF) shell/aqueous core microcapsules, with a single (mononuclear) core, have been prepared, but the low Tg (-84°C) of PTHF makes characterization of the particles more difficult. Poly(methyl methacrylate) and poly(isobutyl methacrylate) have higher Tg values (105 and 55°C, respectively) and can be dissolved in water at sufficiently high acetone concentrations, but evaporation of the acetone from the emulsion droplets in these cases mostly resulted in polynuclear capsules, that is, having cores with many very small water droplets contained within the polymer matrix. Microcapsules with fewer, larger aqueous droplets in the core could be produced by reducing the rate of evaporation of the acetone. A possible mechanism for the formation of these polynuclear cores is suggested. These microcapsules were prepared dispersed in an oil-continuous phase. They could, however, be successfully transferred to a water-continuous phase, using a simple centrifugation technique. In this way, microcapsules with aqueous cores, dispersed in an aqueous medium, could be made. It would appear that a real challenge with the water-core systems, compared to the previous oil-core systems, is to obtain the correct order of magnitude of the three interfacial tensions, between the polymer, the aqueous phase, and the continuous oil phase; these control the spreading conditions necessary to produce shells rather than "acorns".

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7979-7985
Number of pages7
Issue number21
Publication statusPublished - 19 Oct 2004
Externally publishedYes


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