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Oh those pesky emulsions! Chemists encounter them all the time and they suck big time. What are emulsions? Well, sometimes when a solvent and a murky cloudy water solution are shaken/stirred together, then allowed to separate, they won't always separate back into their two distinct layers. Sometime, such as in the first solvent extraction of Top 10 #2, a gummy looking thick interphase will form between the solvent and water layer. This middle layer/interphase is an emulsion of solvent and aqueous phase that refuses to separate. How does one go about separating the two liquids.

  1. Wait. Time is often all that is needed.

  2. Gently tilt, or rock the container holding this mess a couple of times. This may disrupt the interphase.

  3. Stick a piece of wire or coat hanger into the interphase and whisk lightly.

  4. Overwhelm it with solvent. If the interphase won't break then one can add an excess of solvent. This is a way that allows the chemist to say "Screw you!" to the interphase by essentially extracting both it and the water together with as much solvent as necessary to produce a prominent solvent layer.

  5. Low on solvent? The whole "3 layers" mix can be poured through a stainless steel container or wire mesh kitchen strainer to bust up the emulsion.

  6. How professional lab personnel do it: Dump solution into a centrifuge bucket and spin (centrifuge) it at about 1000rpm for 2 minutes. One gets perfect 2 layer separation every time.


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