Repulsive Interactions of Eco-corona-Covered Microplastic Particles Quantitatively Follow Modeling of Polymer Brushes

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review



The environmental fate and toxicity of microplastic particles are dominated by their surface properties. In the environment, an adsorbed layer of biomolecules and natural organic matter forms the so-called eco-corona. A quantitative description of how this eco-corona changes the particles' colloidal interactions is still missing. Here, we demonstrate with colloidal probe-atomic force microscopy that eco-corona formation on microplastic particles introduces a compressible film on the surface, which changes the mechanical behavior. We measure single particle-particle interactions and find a pronounced increase of long-range repulsive interactions upon eco-corona formation. These force-separation characteristics follow the Alexander-de Gennes (AdG) polymer brush model under certain conditions. We further compare the obtained fitting parameters to known systems like polyelectrolyte multilayers and propose these as model systems for the eco-corona. Our results show that concepts of fundamental polymer physics, like the AdG model, also help in understanding more complex systems like biomolecules adsorbed to surfaces, i.e., the eco-corona.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8748-8756
Number of pages9
Issue number29
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jul 2022

External IDs

PubMed 35736564