MICELLE

A micelle or micella (plural micelles or micellae, respectively) is an aggregate of surfactant molecules dispersed in a liquid colloid. A typical micelle in aqueous solution forms an aggregate with the hydrophilic "head" regions in contact with surrounding solvent, sequestering the hydrophobic single-tail regions in the micelle centre. This phase is caused by the packing behavior of single-tail lipids in a bilayer. The difficulty filling all the volume of the interior of a bilayer, while accommodating the area per head group forced on the molecule by the hydration of the lipid head group, leads to the formation of the micelle. This type of micelle is known as a normal-phase micelle (oil-in-water micelle). Inverse micelles have the head groups at the centre with the tails extending out (water-in-oil micelle). Micelles are approximately spherical in shape. Other phases, including shapes such as ellipsoids, cylinders, and bilayers, are also possible. The shape and size of a micelle are a function of the molecular geometry of its surfactant molecules and solution conditions such as surfactant concentration, temperature, pH, and ionic strength. The process of forming micelles is known as micellisation and forms part of the phase behaviour of many lipids according to their polymorphism.

The ability of a soapy solution to act as a detergent has been recognized for centuries. However, it is only at the beginning of the twentieth century that the constitution of such solutions was scientifically studied. Pioneering work in this area was carried out by James William McBain at the University of Bristol. As early as 1913, he postulated the existence of “colloidal ions” to explain the good electrolytic conductivity of sodium palmitate solutions. These highly mobile, spontaneously formed clusters came to be called micelles, a term borrowed from biology and popularized by G.S. Hartley in his classic book Paraffin Chain Salts: A Study in Micelle Formation.

Individual surfactant molecules that are in the system but are not part of a micelle are called "monomers". Lipid micelles represent a molecular assembly, in which the individual components are thermodynamically in equilibrium with monomers of the same species in the surrounding medium. In water, the hydrophilic "heads" of surfactant molecules are always in contact with the solvent, regardless of whether the surfactants exist as monomers or as part of a micelle. However, the lipophilic "tails" of surfactant molecules have less contact with water when they are part of a micelle—this being the basis for the energetic drive for micelle formation. In a micelle, the hydrophobic tails of several surfactant molecules assemble into an oil-like core, the most stable form of which having no contact with water. By contrast, surfactant monomers are surrounded by water molecules that create a "cage" of molecules connected by hydrogen bonds. This water cage is similar to a clathrate and has an ice-like crystal structure and can be characterized according to the hydrophobic effect. The extent of lipid solubility is determined by the unfavorable entropy contribution due to the ordering of the water structure according to the hydrophobic effect.



Micelles composed of ionic surfactants have an electrostatic attraction to the ions that surround them in solution, the latter known as counterions. Although the closest counterions partially mask a charged micelle (by up to 90%), the effects of micelle charge affect the structure of the surrounding solvent at appreciable distances from the micelle. Ionic micelles influence many properties of the mixture, including its electrical conductivity. Adding salts to a colloid containing micelles can decrease the strength of electrostatic interactions and lead to the formation of larger ionic micelles. This is more accurately seen from the point of view of an effective charge in hydration of the system.

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