The interactions between the strong polyelectrolyte sodium poly(styrene sulfonate), NaPSS, and the neutral polymer poly(vinyl pyrrolidone), PVP, were investigated in bulk and at the silica/solution interface using a combination of diffusion NMR, SANS, solvent relaxation NMR and ellipsometry. We show for the first time that complex formation occurs between NaPSS and PVP in solution; the complexes formed were shown not to be influenced by pH variation, whereas increasing the ionic strength increases the complexation of NaPSS but does not influence the PVP directly. The complexes formed contained a large proportion of NaPSS. Study of these interactions at the silica interface demonstrated that complexes also form at the nanoparticle interface where PVP is added in the system prior to NaPSS. For a constant PVP concentration and varying NaPSS concentration, the system remains stable until NaPSS is added in excess, which leads to depletion flocculation. Surface complex formation using the layer-by-layer technique was also reported at a planar silica interface.

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