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Solving day to day product problems at microstructure level
Recognise trouble to get body lotion out of the bottle …. in the right quantity?
All materials and products possess a fine structure, mostly invisible to the eye. Often, this fine structure (called microstructure) is of tremendous importance to the behaviour of the material of product. The difference between a mealy apple and a crunchy one is in the microstructure, and, to take an obvious one: snow has a different microstructure than solid ice although both consist of one chemical: water. And both are in the same physical state: solid.
The Consistence approach
Consistence has the tools to visualise, understand, and compare the microstructure of almost any material. The wide range of microscopical instruments and methods available at Consistence are the right kit for a straightforward approach to study even difficult and formerly impossible visualisations and measurements of structures in the range of 1 meter down to 10 nanometer, thus spanning 8 orders of magnitude. Experience and origin of the lab have led to great insight into microstructure research of wet, delicate, and soft matter.
Often cryo-Scanning Electron Microscopy (cryo-SEM) is the key method for a first in-depth insight into new materials and research questions. Once mapped and understood, a range of different methods are available to further analyse microstructure, often by comparing different samples and treatments. Sometimes it’s difficult, often it’s quite possible to get astonishing beautiful images of any microstructure. Several types of materials are highlighted below, with some examples, to fuel expectations…
Consistence Barendrecht is the laboratory where best cryoplaning results are obtained; call it artisanal, but within reach! Cryoplaning is the method where a sample is cryofixed and cut through to reveal internal structure of any (wet) material, such as living material or even liquids such as milk.
Solids are fixed, and liquids flow, but what about everything in between, like gels, foams, emulsions, biological material etc. Understanding microstructure of soft matter helps understanding macroscopic functioning, such as plasticity, fracturing, light dispersion, and product stability. Many types of microscopy are being used to characterise microstructure of soft matter, in addition to physical measurement methods such as rheometry, particle size distribution measurement and specific interactions with light and other types of radiation. Consistence is specialised to study internal structure, obtaining deep insight in size and shapes of material building blocks, even in delicate and metastable structures such as ice cream.
Wet and intermediate moisture materials
Imagine having a cross-section of soup, paint, or ketchup! These wet materials would deform such that the original structure would be totally lost. Cryo-microscopy solves the problem of deformation, by first freezing the subject into a solid and subsequently obtaining the desired cross-section by either fracturing, cutting. Yes, ice crystals would ruin the structure, but not or restricted to <100 nanometer when frozen in melting propane! And why investigating apple sauce microstructure? Well, if consumer want it a bit more firm, with clean label, the key is in the cell wall scaffold…
Dissolving sugar in hot water or coffee is easy. But how to be sure that cappuccino powder has the right properties to dissolve and not to form hopeless lumps? Part of the solution is in the shape and order of the powder particles…. good to know……and also quite insightful that imaging powders at -40 degrees Celsius helps to obtain radically better images of oily powders.
Other materials evoking the desire to have microstructural insights are (defects in) multi-layered packaging foils, buildup of coatings and films, cakes, etc. And what about comparing different kinds of woven tissues or catalysts?
An extremely high level of structural organisation is a key feature of all living beings, either plants, bacteria, animals, fungi, or even viruses. And all the details count, be it for biological functionality or for human use and understanding. After the first microscopes of Anthony van Leeuwenhoek, in the late 1600s, many types of microscopes have seen the light. The multidisciplinary use of all of them helps unravelling our world and our day to day challenges. How does a plant seed germinate? Why is the chaff of cereals so hard in mouth, how does an aphid pierce into a plant’s sugar sources, all these questions can be addressed with microscopy and research at the Consistence Laboratory in Barendrecht,, where biological structures can be dissected despite level of hydration and complexity.