Hypothesis: New dynamic phenomena can be observed in evaporating free liquid films from colloidal solutions with bimodal particle size distribution. Such distributions are formed in a natural way in mixed (slightly turbid) solutions of cationic and anionic surfactants, where nanosized micelles coexist with micronsized precipitated particles.
Experiment: Without evaporation of water, the films thin down to thickness < 100 nm. Upon water evaporation from the film, one observes spontaneous film thickening (above 300 nm) and appearance of a dynamic vortex with a spot of thinner film in the center. The vortex wall has a stepwise profile with step-height equal to the effective micelle diameter (ca. 8 nm) and up to 20–30 stratification steps.
Results: For thicknesses greater than 100 nm, stratification in foam films from micellar solutions has never been observed so far. It evidences for the formation of a thick colloidal crystal of micelles in the evaporating film. The role of the bigger, micronsized particles is to form a filtration cake in the Plateau border, which supports the thick film. The developed quantitative mechanical model shows that the step-wise vortex profile is stabilized by the balance of hydrodynamic and surface tension forces. Vortex is observed not only in films from catanionic surfactant solutions, but also in films from silica and latex particle suspensions, which contain smaller surfactant micelles.