There are two basic methods of forming a colloid: reduction of larger particles to colloidal size, and condensation of smaller particles (e.g., molecules) into colloidal particles. Some substances (e.g., gelatin or glue) are easily dispersed (in the proper solvent) to form a colloid; this spontaneous dispersion is called peptization. A metal can be dispersed by evaporating it in an electric arc; if the electrodes are immersed in water, colloidal particles of the metal form as the metal vapor cools. A solid (e.g., paint pigment) can be reduced to colloidal particles in a colloid mill, a mechanical device that uses a shearing force to break apart the larger particles. An emulsion is often prepared by homogenization, usually with the addition of an emulsifying agent. The above methods involve breaking down a larger substance into colloidal particles. Condensation of smaller particles to form a colloid usually involves chemical reactions—typically displacement, hydrolysis, or oxidation and reduction.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.