Self-propelled oil droplets in a nonequilibrium system have drawn much attention as both a primitive type of inanimate chemical machinery and a dynamic model of the origin of life. Here, to create the pH-sensitive self-propelled motion of oil droplets, we synthesized cationic surfactants containing hydrolyzable ester linkages. We found that n-heptyloxybenzaldehyde oil droplets were self-propelled in the presence of ester-containing cationic surfactant. In basic solution prepared with sodium hydroxide, oil droplets moved as molecular aggregates formed on their surface. Moreover, the self-propelled motion in the presence of the hydrolyzable cationic surfactant lasted longer than that in the presence of nonhydrolyzable cationic surfactant. This is probably due to the production of a fatty acid by the hydrolysis of the ester-containing cationic surfactant and the subsequent neutralization of the fatty acid with sodium hydroxide. A complex surfactant was formed in the aqueous solution because of the cation and anion combination. Because such complex formation can induce both a decrease in the interfacial tension of the oil droplet and self-assembly with n-heptyloxybenzaldehyde and lauric acid in the aqueous dispersion, the prolonged movement of the oil droplet may be explained by the increase in heterogeneity of the interfacial tension of the oil droplet triggered by the hydrolysis of the ester-containing surfactant.
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