A colloid is a type of chemical mixture where one substance is dispersed evenly throughout another. The particles of the dispersed substance are only suspended in the mixture, unlike a solution, where they are completely dissolved within. This occurs because the particles in a colloid are larger than in a solution - small enough to be dispersed evenly and maintain a homogenous appearance, but large enough to scatter light and not dissolve. Because of this dispersal, some colloids have the appearance of solutions. A colloidal system consists of two separate phases: a dispersed phase (or internal phase) and a continuous phase (or dispersion medium). A colloidal system may be solid, liquid, or gaseous.
Many familiar substances are colloids, as shown in the chart below. As well as these naturally occurring colloids, modern chemical process industries utilise high shear mixing technology to create novel colloids.
The subsequent table compares particle(s) diameters of colloids, homogeneous and heterogeneous mixture:
Thus, colloid suspensions are intermediate between homogeneous and heterogeneous mixtures. They are sometimes classified as either "homogeneous" or "heterogeneous" based upon their appearance.
The dispersed-phase particles have a diameter of between approximately 5 and 200 nanometers. Such particles are normally invisible to an optical microscope, though their presence can be confirmed with the use of an ultramicroscope or an electron microscope. Homogeneous mixtures with a dispersed phase in this size range may be called colloidal aerosols, colloidal emulsions, colloidal foams, colloidal dispersions, or hydrosols. The dispersed-phase particles or droplets are largely affected by the surface chemistry present in the colloid.
Some colloids are translucent because of the Tyndall effect, which is the scattering of light by particles in the colloid. Other colloids may be opaque or have a slight color.
Colloidal systems (also called colloidal solutions or colloidal suspensions) are the subject of interface and colloid science. This field of study was introduced in 1861 by Scottish scientist Thomas Graham.