One way of classifying colloids is to group them according to the phase (solid, liquid, or gas) of the dispersed substance and of the medium of dispersion. A gas may be dispersed in a liquid to form a foam (e.g., shaving lather or beaten egg white) or in a solid to form a solid foam (e.g., styrofoam or marshmallow). A liquid may be dispersed in a gas to form an aerosol (e.g., fog or aerosol spray), in another liquid to form an emulsion (e.g., homogenized milk or mayonnaise), or in a solid to form a gel (e.g., jellies or cheese). A solid may be dispersed in a gas to form a solid aerosol (e.g., dust or smoke in air), in a liquid to form a sol (e.g., ink or muddy water), or in a solid to form a solid sol (e.g., certain alloys).
A further distinction is often made in the case of a dispersed solid. In some cases (e.g., a dispersion of sulfur in water) the colloidal particles have the same internal structure as a bulk of the solid. In other cases (e.g., a dispersion of soap in water) the particles are an aggregate of small molecules and do not correspond to any particular solid structure. In still other cases (e.g., a dispersion of a protein in water) the particles are actually very large single molecules. A different distinction, usually made when the dispersing medium is a liquid, is between lyophilic and lyophobic systems. The particles in a lyophilic system have a great affinity for the solvent, and are readily solvated (combined, chemically or physically, with the solvent) and dispersed, even at high concentrations. In a lyophobic system the particles resist solvation and dispersion in the solvent, and the concentration of particles is usually relatively low.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.