What Are Colloids?



What Are Colloids?

Colloids can be defined as particles of a substance which are finely divided and mixed in a supporting substance (liquid, gel, gas, etc.). Technically, Merriam Webster's Medical Dictionary defines a colloid as "a substance that consists of particles dispersed throughout another substance which are too small for resolution with an ordinary light microscope but are incapable of passing through a semipermeable membrane or as a mixture (as smoke) consisting of a colloid together with the medium in which it is dispersed."

What Is Meant By Colloidal Suspension?

Actually, the term 'colloidal suspension' isn't altogether accurate. Substances held in a colloidal state are in a medium (any substance that acts as a surrounding or enveloping base for another substance) that is actually somewhere between a suspension and a solution. However, for simplicities sake, we will use the term colloidal suspension when referring to any substance that is held in a colloidal state (e.g. ionic, plant-derived minerals within a colloidal solution). The term used to describe the condition in which materials are held in a stable, colloidal suspension is called the 'dispersed phase.' In the dispersed phase they are distributed evenly and uniformly ,throughout whatever medium they are suspended in (e.g., water, gel, etc.). As stated above, colloids are so small that they cannot be seen with the naked eye. However, not all materials that are finely divided and mixed into a liquid medium are colloids. Silt or silt-like compounds (i.e., extremely fine earth or salts), are often found in water. Even though silt can be so tiny that we don't notice its presence, it is not a colloid. A solution that contains true colloids and a solution containing silt is notably different. When left alone and undisturbed, silt will settle out of water. This is due to the fact that it is heavier and denser than the medium in which it is being held. Tap water is a good example of this. Most unpurified tap water contains materials that are not readily apparent to the naked eye. As an experiment, place tap water in a glass and leave it undisturbed for a few minutes or hours. After an hour or two, inspect it. There will usually be sediment at the bottom of the glass. This sediment is composed of materials which have settled out of the medium. This settling action does not occur with a properly formed colloidal preparation.

Once a substance has been transformed into a stable, colloidal state, whether by technologically advanced methods (electro-colloidal, chemical, etc.), they are still too large and insoluble to dissolve but are also too small to settle out of the suspension like silt particles are known to do. This fixed state of suspension occurs regardless of whether the substances are inorganic (metals) or organic (plant tissues).

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