Ugelstad Laboratory - Colloid and Polymer Chemistry

Ugelstad Laboratory - Colloid and Polymer Chemistry

Master student in lab. Photo

Ugelstad Laboratory tabs

Ugelstad Laboratory is the group of surface, colloid and polymer chemistry and was established in 2002 in memory of professor John Ugelstad. Surface and colloid chemistry provides understanding of natural processes like formation of clouds, rain and lipid membranes, all prerequisites for life. In everyday life we encounter colloidal systems in cleaning, food products, cosmetics, pharmaceutical products and coatings, while industrial applications include transport and processing of oil and gas, water treatment, mineral recovery and paper making processes. Surface/interface phenomena are essential for the quality, efficiency and sustainability of products or processes in all these examples.

At Ugelstad Laboratory we carry out research at a high and, in some areas, internationally leading level within interface and colloid chemistry. Our investigations generally start from experimental or simulation studies of dissolved molecules and accumulation of these molecules at interfaces, via studies of how the resulting interfacial films influence the stability of colloidal dispersions, ending up with an understanding of how these microscopic phenomena govern large scale processes such as oil-water separation, water treatment, enhanced oil recovery, food processing, biomedicine and CO2 capture (see illustration).



The group collaborates closely with national and international industry, research institutes (IFE, RISE-PFI, SINTEF) and academic groups throughout the world. We continuously invest in new instrumentation, develop novel experimental methodologies and maintain high HSE standards in our laboratory facilities. In this way, Ugelstad Laboratory offers a unique and ambitious research environment for students and scientists, aiming at educating highly qualified Master and PhD candidates for industrial and academic positions.

Interfacial Engineering

An interface is the boundary between two phases where the properties are different from the adjacent phases. A colloidal dispersion is a multiphase system where particles, drops or bubbles, with sizes between 1 nm and 1 µm, are dispersed in a continuous matrix. Such suspensions, emulsions or foams can have enormous interfacial areas, which means that phenomena occurring at the interfaces are essential for the behaviour of these systems. Examples are interfacial tension, interfacial rheology, interfacial adsorption and desorption and interfacial forces, which are related to the stability of the dispersions. The stability must be promoted to prolong shelf-life and avoid alterations of texture and taste during the design of food products, for instance. In water treatment processes, on the other hand, the dispersions must be destabilised to obtain phase separation as efficiently as possible. The research at Ugelstad Laboratory is devoted to understanding how the efficiency of industrial processes and technical systems are linked to interfacial properties at the molecular scale.


Complex interfaces in stability and transport of dispersions

Industrial fluids are complex in composition, resulting in complex interfaces. The interfacial tension and interfacial rheology are important factors during microscopic processes like emulsion formation and coalescence of droplets, which again govern macroscopic processes like separation of gas, oil and water during petroleum production. At Ugelstad laboratory we are in the international research front when it comes to interfacial investigations and understanding the relationships between interfacial properties and separation efficiency of petroleum emulsions. Utilising renewable materials like lignosulfonates as stabilisers for particles and droplets is another example of our work on complex interfaces.

Complex interfaces will also influence transport of dispersions. When petroleum crude oil is produced, for example, it must be transported by pipeline from the wells to the processing plants or point of sales. During this transport various types of solids (asphaltenes, waxes, gas hydrates, naphthenates, scales) can form and lead to plugging of the pipeline and hinder transport. Specific methods must be implemented to prevent or remedy their formation (this is often called flow assurance). At Ugelstad Laboratory we determine the mechanisms of formation of these solids and develop new analysis and inhibition methods in collaboration with key oil companies and chemical vendors.


Complex interfaces in multiphase flow in porous media

Displacement of one fluid by another immiscible fluid in porous structures is essential for processes such as enhanced oil recovery, contamination of ground water and geological CO2 sequestration. Transport and retention of drops, solids and bubbles in porous structures are determining the efficiency of processes such as re-injection of produced water into reservoirs during petroleum production (see illustration), membrane emulsification and membrane filtration. We develop advanced microfluidic methods for studying these phenomena at Ugelstad Laboratory.




Microfluid methodology is a supreme way of controlling and visualizing the behaviour of fluids and dispersions in micrometer sized channels and networks. In addition, it can offer a faster and more accurate measurements then traditional measurement methods due to fast heat and mass transfer. Currently, we are developing microfluidic methods as a viable way of studying multiphase systems at timescales, temperatures and pressures relevant for industrial processes. More specifically; investigations of drop-drop and drop-bubble coalescence, phase displacement and dispersions in porous media, which are important phenomena in produced water treatment, gas flotation, enhanced oil recovery and re-injection of produced water, respectively. Furthermore, we use microfluidics in the development of solar cells.



Rheology is the study of deformation and flow of continuum matter. Complex fluids often exhibit unique rheological behavior which is attributable to the interfacial-intensive material structure. Rheological investigations provide a bridge between material chemistry and large-scale flow behavior/hydrodynamics in industrial systems. Pristine wax-oil gels exhibit “irreversible non-ideal thixotropy”, which is manifested in a deformation-dependent structural state. During restart of gelled oil pipelines, deformation-dependent gel rheology gives rise to a coupled pressure wavefront which combines the properties of a diffusive viscous compression wavefront and a rheological degradation wavefront. The rheology of wax-oil gels modified by inhibitors and heavy polar components is a current topic of research at Ugelstad Laboratory. In addition, drilling fluid rheology and resultant cleaning performance is a research topic at Ugelstad Laboratory.

Universal Microfluidic Platforms

Our two tailormade microfluidic setups consist of two main parts: 1) the flow control, where flow rate, temperature and pressure are controlled and 2) the detection part, where an inverted microscope (Nikon Ti-U) connected to a high-speed or high-resolution camera (Photron Mini AX100) can be used to capture phenomena occurring at time scales down µs. In our research, we are using this method to look at phenomena like coalescence of multiphase systems (Video 1) and multiphase flow in porous structures (Video 2)



Dynamic and equilibrium interfacial tension measurements describes adsorption onto interfaces and can be performed by various methods. The choice of method depends on which type of information that is of interest. We have four different ways of measuring interfacial tension.

Ring tensiometer (Sigma 70, KSV Instruments, Finland): The measurement principle is force measurements when a probe is either put in contact with the surface of a liquid (Wilhelmy plate method) or withdrawn from a liquid (Du Nouy ring method). The technique is primarily useful for equilibrium interfacial tension measurements.

Spinning drop tensiometer (SVT 20, DataPhysics Instruments GmbH, Germany): The principle is that a low-density liquid will form a drop at the center of a rotation capillary. The drop will be elongated with increasing speed of revolution as the centrifugal force will increasingly oppose the drive of the interfacial tension towards a minimum interfacial area. The shape of the elongated drop is optically detected and used to calculate the interfacial tension. The technique is useful for measuring low and ultralow interfacial tensions.

Pendant drop tensiometer (PAT-1, Sinterface, Germany and CAM 200, KSV Instruments Ltd., Finland): The shape of a drop/bubble immersed in an immiscible liquid is followed by a camera and converted to interfacial tension. The method is particularly suitable for time dependent measurements of adsorption of surfactants at liquid/air or liquid/liquid interfaces. The rheological properties (elasticity and viscosity) of the interface can also be determined by subjecting the drop to periodic oscillation of the volume and follow the induced variations of interfacial tension. The setup can also be used to measure contact angles on a flat substrate. Furthermore, a drop-bubble micromanipulator accessory can be used to follow the drainage of liquid from the thin film formed between approaching drops/bubbles.

Maximum bubble pressure tensiometer (BP100, Krüss, Germany): Bubbles are immersed into a solution and the maximum pressure during the bubble formation is detected and used to calculate the interfacial tension. The dynamic interfacial tension can be measured by varying the flow rate of the gas. This is the only method to measure dynamic interfacial tension and adsorption kinetics at very short (ms) time scales.


Dispersion characterization and stability

Turbiscan Lab Expert (Formulaction, France): Using multiple light scattering, the instrument detects the stability/separation in suspensions and emulsions by following transmission and backscattering of light as a function of time along the entire sample.

Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy: The 23 MHz PFG NMR (Maran Ultra, Oxford Instruments) is used to study self-diffusion, droplet size distributions, stability of w/o emulsions and o/w inversion phenomena.

Rheometer (Physica MCR 301, Anton Paar): The rheometer is used to analyze flow properties and structural properties (i.e.viscosity, storage and loss modulus) of liquids and dispersions.


Thermal analysis

Differential Scanning Calorimeter (Q2000, TA Instruments): The instrument measures temperatures and heat flows associated with thermal transitions in a material. Properties that can be determined include glass transitions, melting, crystallization, asphaltene precipitation kinetics and paraffin wax analysis.

Thermogravimetric Analyzer with Differential Scanning Calorimeter (Q600, TA Instruments) provides simultaneous measurement of weight change (TGA) and true differential heat flow (DSC) on samples. Properties that can be determined include thermal stability, film stability, oxidation processes, surfactant stability and asphaltene pyrolysis.

Isothermal Calorimeter (TA Instruments) is a thermodynamic technique that directly measures the heat released or absorbed during a molecular binding event. It is used to determine thermodynamic parameters such as enthalpy and equilibrium constants and is used to study interactions between components and determine self-association of molecules.


Particle and surface characterization

Dynamic light scattering (Zetasizer Nano ZS, Malvern Instruments): by measuring diffusion coefficients in dilute samples particle sizes are calculated.

Electrophoretic mobility (Zetasizer Nano ZS, Malvern Instruments): the velocity of particles in a electrical field is measured and used to calculate the zeta potential. This gives information about the surface properties of the particles.

Mastersizer 3000 (Malvern Instruments): uses laser diffraction in analyses of particle size distributions in dispersions.

Quartz Crystal Microbalance with Dissipation Monitoring: QCM-D enables nanoscale mass and structural changes to be measured and therefore offers a robust method for studying molecular interactions and surface phenomena. Measurements are based on changes in vibration frequency of a quartz crystal sensor in response to interactions or reactions occurring on the sensor surface. The technique can be used to follow molecular events in real-time, measure mass and thickness of molecular layers and analyze structural properties of molecular layers.


Optical and spectroscopy techniques

Fluorescence Microscope (Nikon LV 100D) function as a normal microscope but has the additional ability to display only fluorescent species in samples. The microscope is equipped with a color camera for image capturing.

Digital Video Microscope (Nikon Eclipse ME600) for imaging of dispersions.

Fourier-Transform (Mid) Infrared Spectrophotometer (Tensor 27, Bruker Optics): The instrument has a spectral range from 7,500 to 370 cm-1 and is equipped with a Bruker Golden Gate diamond Attenuated Total Reflection (ATR) cell and a flow cell.

Fourier-Transform (Near) Infrared Spectrophotometer (Multi Purpose Analyzer, Bruker Optics): The instrument has a spectral range from 12,800 to 4,000 cm-1, which allows for characterization in the near-infrared regime.

UV-vis Spectrophotometer (UV-2401PC, Shimadzu): The instrument has a spectral range from 190-1100 nm and is equipped with a temperature control unit and an integrating sphere attachment for diffuse and total reflectance measurements.

High Resolution Raman Microscope (LabRAM HR800, Horiba Jobin Yvon): The instrument can undertake Raman measurements at various spectral resolutions in the UV, VIS or NIR range. The high-resolution mode is ideal for precise characterization of the position and the shape of bands of spectra of crystalline and amorphous materials. The instrument can also be used for sample mapping using a confocal microscope and for analysis of liquids with a remote fiber optic head.

Fluorometer (Fluorolog-3, Horiba Jobin Yvon): The instrument can be used for steady-state absorption and emission spectroscopy as well as fluorescence lifetime measurements by time-correlated single photon counting.


Chromatographic methods

High performance liquid chromatography: The system consists the following modules (Shimadzu): two pumps, a degasser, a gradient mixer, an auto-injector, a column chiller/heater, an UV/vis detector and a fluorescence detector. The separation is based on affinity chromatography and is mainly used to determine the concentrations of naphthenic acids with methodology developed at Ugelstad Laboratory. In another setup data acquisition can be done by UV- and RI-signals.





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SFI SUBPRO - Subsea Production and Processing Centre

  • Effect of production and EOR chemicals on produced water quality
  • Emulsions in porous media, produced water reinjection
  • Multiphase Separation and transport model library


Petromaks II

  • ELCO - New strategy for separation of complex water-in-crude oil emulsions – from bench to large scale separation
  • Green EOR - Green high-performance systems for Enhanced Oil Recovery
  • Optimized hydraulic behaviour in well construction



  • NanoVisc - Development of high-performance viscosifiers and texture ingredients for applications based on cellulose nanofibrils
  • Development of ionic liquid super capacitors



  • Development of novel microfluidic methods for investigating mobilisation and displacement mechanisms in EOR processes (VISTA)
  • Ligno2G: 2nd generation performance chemicals from lignin (BIA)
  • CO2 capture in confined geometries (CLIMIT)
  • Microfluidic Augmented Nanostructured Solar Cells for Low-Cost Sustainable Energy Alternatives (NV faculty)
  • Understanding the growth and properties of hybrid nanomaterials for biomedical applications (NV faculty)
  • Wax crystallisation with inhibitors

Information will come soon