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
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
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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