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The property of surface activity is usually due to the fact that the molecules of the substance are amphipathic or amphiphilic, meaning that each contains both a hydrophilic and a hydrophobic (lipophilic) group. This assumes that one of the two phases is aqueous, and the other non-aqueous. If both are non-aqueous (e.g. oil/air), molecules containing organophilic and organophobic groups may be amphipathic and surface active.
PAC, 1972, 31, 577 (Manual of Symbols and Terminology for Physicochemical Quantities and Units, Appendix II: Definitions, Terminology and Symbols in Colloid and Surface Chemistry) on page 612
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IUPAC. Compendium of Chemical Terminology, 2nd ed. (the "Gold Book"). Compiled by A. D. McNaught and A. Wilkinson. Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford (1997). XML on-line corrected version: (2006-) created by M. Nic, J. Jirat, B. Kosata; updates compiled by A. Jenkins. ISBN 0-9678550-9-8.
Last update: 2014-02-24; version: 2.3.3.
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