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Ferrihydrite Nanoparticle Aggregation Induced by Dissolved Organic Matter

Gentile, Luigi; Wang, Tao; Tunlid, Anders; Olsson, Ulf; Persson, Per

By 12 March 2019No Comments

The Journal of Physical Chemistry A, 2018, vol 122, 38, pp. 7730-7738



Ferrihydrite (Fh) nanoparticles are omnipresent in nature and often highly mobile because of their colloidal stability. Thus, Fh serves as a vector for iron as well as associated nutrients and contaminants. Here, we demonstrate, using small-angle X-ray scattering combined with cryo-transmission electron microscopy (cryo-TEM), that dissolved organic matter (DOM), extracted from a boreal forest soil, induce aggregation of Fh nanoparticles, of radius 3 nm, into fractal aggregates, having a fractal dimension D = 1.7. The DOM consists of both fractal-like colloids (>100 nm) and small molecular DOM, but the attractive Fh interparticle interaction was mediated by molecular DOM alone as shown by cryo-TEM. This highlights the importance of using soil extracts, including all size fractions, in studies of the colloidal behavior of DOM–mineral aggregates. The Fh nanoparticles also self-assemble during synthesis into aggregates with the same fractal dimension as the DOM–Fh aggregates. We propose that, in both the absence and presence of DOM, the aggregation is controlled by the Fh particle charge, and the process can be viewed as a linear polymerization into a self-avoiding random walk structure. The theoretical D value for this is 5/3, which is in close agreement with our Fh and DOM–Fh results.

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