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Encyclopedia > Surfactants

Surfactants, also known as wetting agents, lower the surface tension of a liquid, allowing easier spreading. The term surfactant is a compression of "Surface active agent". Surfactants are usually organic compounds that contain both hydrophobic and hydrophilic groups, and are thus semi-soluble in both organic and aqueous solvents. Surfactants are also known as amphipathic compounds, meaning that they would prefer to be in neither phase (water or organic). For this reason they locate at the phase boundary between the organic and water phase, or, if there is no more room there, they will congregate together and form micelles. The concentration at which surfactants begin to form micelles is known as the critical micelle concentration or CMC.


In Index Medicus and the National Library of Medicine (NLM, USA Dept. of Health and Human Services), "surfactant" is reserved for the meaning pulmonary surfactant (see "alveoli" link below). For the more general meaning, "surface active agent" is the heading.


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Surfactant - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (466 words)
Surfactants are wetting agents that lower the surface tension of a liquid, allowing easier spreading, and lower the interfacial tension between two liquids.
Surfactants are usually organic compounds that are amphipathic, meaning they contain both hydrophobic groups (their "tails") and hydrophilic groups (their "heads").
Surfactants reduce the surface tension of water by adsorbing at the liquid-gas interface.
Pulmonary surfactant - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (795 words)
The proteins and lipids that comprise surfactant have both a hydrophilic region and a hydrophobic region.
By adsorbing to the air-water interface of alveoli with the hydrophilic headgroups in the water and the hydrophobic tails facing towards the air, the main lipd component of surfactant, dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine, reduces surface tension.
The remaining 10% of surfactant is comprised of proteins.
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