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Determining Pore Size With Mercury Intrusion Porosimetry

Updated: Jan 16

In materials characterization, understanding pore size is paramount, and one technique that stands out is Mercury Intrusion Porosimetry (MIP). This method serves as a versatile and powerful tool for precisely determining the pore characteristics of various materials.

How Does It Work?

 mercury intrusion into pores

Mercury Intrusion Porosimetry (MIP) operates on a fascinating principle that takes advantage of mercury's unique properties. Here's a deeper dive into the intricacies of this technique:

Mercury as the Intruding Agent:

  • Mercury, being a dense and non-wetting liquid, serves as an ideal candidate for intrusion into porous materials.

  • The material under investigation, typically in the form of a powder or a compacted sample, is placed within the MIP apparatus.

Controlled Pressure Increment:

  • The magic unfolds as pressure is incrementally applied to the sample.

  • At each pressure step, the mercury is forced into the pores, infiltrating the microstructure of the material.

Pore Size Determination:

  • The volume of mercury intrusion at each pressure level is precisely measured.

  • By plotting the volume of mercury versus the applied pressure, a detailed intrusion curve is generated.

Deriving Pore Size Distribution:

  • The intrusion curve serves as a treasure trove of information.

  • The point at which mercury starts entering the smallest pores is the "bubble point," a key parameter for understanding pore size distribution.

  • The broader the intrusion curve, the wider the range of pore sizes covered by the material.

Analysis and Interpretation:

  • Post-measurement, sophisticated software is employed to analyze the intrusion data.

  • The software assists in deriving a comprehensive pore size distribution profile, indicating the proportion of pores at different size ranges.

Why Mercury?

Mercury's unique properties make it an exceptional intruding agent:

  • Density: Mercury is heavy, ensuring effective penetration into the smallest pores.

  • Non-Wetting: Its non-wetting nature prevents it from sticking to the material's surface, ensuring accurate intrusion.

Precision in Action:

  • MIP allows researchers to precisely control the pressure applied, enabling accurate measurements even in the nanometer range.

  • The controlled conditions ensure repeatability and reproducibility, crucial for obtaining reliable results.


  • It's essential to account for potential interactions between mercury and the material, especially in cases where mercury may chemically react with the sample.

Mercury Intrusion Porosimetry is a dance of pressure and precision, revealing the secrets of a material's microstructure. The controlled intrusion of mercury, the meticulous measurements, and the subsequent analysis unveil a narrative of the material's pore universe, contributing to advancements in materials science and engineering.

Versatility Across Scales

pore size distribution obtained through MIP

Mercury Intrusion Porosimetry (MIP) stands out as a trailblazer in material characterization, offering a unique versatility that spans across a diverse spectrum of scales. This adaptability is a testament to its prowess in navigating the intricate landscapes of pores, from the visible to the nearly imperceptible.

Macro to Micro:

  • Macroscopic Pores: MIP doesn't shy away from the larger end of the spectrum, delving into the macroscopic realm where pores might be visible to the naked eye. This capability is particularly relevant in understanding the structural porosity of materials like concrete used in construction.

  • Mesopores: Moving into the intermediate range, MIP excels in characterizing mesopores. These are pores in the range of 2 to 50 nanometers, playing a crucial role in various materials, including catalysts, where surface area and reactivity are paramount.

  • Micropores: At the microscopic level, MIP continues its exploration, reaching into the micropores that often define the sorption properties of materials. This is crucial in understanding how gases or liquids interact within confined spaces, impacting applications such as gas storage and separation.

Nanoscopic Precision:

  • Nanopores: The adaptability of MIP extends to the nanoscale, delving into nanopores that measure less than 2 nanometers. This capability is essential in the characterization of advanced materials like nanocomposites and biomaterials, where nanoscale porosity profoundly influences properties.

  • Precision Engineering: The ability to precisely navigate these varying scales makes MIP an invaluable tool in precision engineering. Whether dealing with materials at the macroscale in construction or manipulating nanoscale structures in advanced materials, MIP offers insights that contribute to material optimization.

Cross-Industry Relevance:

  • Ceramics and Building Materials: In construction materials, understanding both macro- and mesoscale pores is critical for durability. MIP contributes by providing insights into the interconnected porosity that influences factors like freeze-thaw resistance.

  • Polymers and Nanocomposites: When it comes to polymers and nanocomposites, the ability to discern micropores and nanopores is vital. MIP aids in tailoring these materials for specific applications, ensuring optimal performance in diverse industries.

  • Biomedical Materials: In the biomedical field, where nanoscale interactions are paramount, MIP helps in characterizing nanoporous structures in materials used for drug delivery or tissue engineering.

In essence, MIP's versatility across scales positions it as a versatile cartographer of the pore landscape. From the visible to the nearly invisible, MIP's exploration of varying scales empowers researchers and engineers with insights that drive innovation across industries.

Applications in Diverse Materials

showcasing the relevance of MIP

Mercury Intrusion Porosimetry (MIP) isn't confined to a singular realm; its applications reverberate across diverse materials, shaping industries and innovations. Let's delve deeper into the specific applications of MIP in various materials:

  1. Wide Range Coverage: MIP's ability to encompass a wide range of pore sizes makes it suitable for diverse materials, providing comprehensive insights.

  2. High Precision: The controlled pressure conditions in MIP ensure precise intrusion data, contributing to accurate and reliable pore size distribution results.

  3. Material Optimization: By understanding the pore characteristics, industries can optimize material structures for improved performance and durability.

  4. Soils and Sediments: In environmental science, understanding soil and sediment pore structure is pivotal for assessing groundwater movement, soil fertility, and pollutant transport. MIP provides valuable data on the pore characteristics of these materials, aiding environmental researchers in making informed decisions.

  5. Powders and Granular Materials: Industries like pharmaceuticals and powder metallurgy rely on the precise control of pore size in powders. MIP aids in characterizing the porosity of powders, ensuring optimal performance in processes like pharmaceutical tablet manufacturing or the production of powdered metals.

  6. Catalysts: In the field of catalysis, where the efficiency of a catalyst often depends on its surface area and porosity, MIP becomes instrumental. Researchers use this technique to analyze and optimize the pore structures of catalyst materials, enhancing their catalytic activities.

  7. Geological Materials: Rocks, minerals, and geological formations have unique pore structures that influence their behavior in oil reservoirs, mining, and civil engineering. MIP helps geologists and engineers comprehend these structures, contributing to resource exploration, extraction, and environmental impact assessments.

  8. Polymeric Foams: In industries where lightweight materials with specific porosity requirements are crucial, such as aerospace and automotive, MIP assists in designing polymeric foams with tailored pore structures. This ensures that the materials meet stringent performance and safety standards.

  9. Electronic Components: The electronics industry demands materials with specific thermal and electrical properties. By understanding the pore characteristics of materials used in electronic components, MIP contributes to the development of heat-dissipating materials and insulating structures.

  10. Biomedical Materials: In the realm of biomaterials, where interactions with biological systems are paramount, MIP aids in characterizing the porosity of materials used in implants, drug delivery systems, and tissue engineering. This ensures that these materials provide optimal performance and compatibility with biological environments.

Unlocking Potential Across Industries:

The versatility of MIP in examining materials from soils to electronic components underscores its role as a universal key to unlocking potential across diverse industries. By providing a nuanced understanding of pore characteristics, MIP empowers researchers and engineers to innovate, optimize, and ensure the reliability of materials in various applications.

Challenges and Considerations in Mercury Intrusion Porosimetry (MIP)

Microscopic images showcasing the porosity of powders

While Mercury Intrusion Porosimetry is a powerful and versatile technique, it comes with its set of challenges and considerations that researchers and practitioners need to be mindful of.

  1. Material Compatibility: One primary consideration is the compatibility of the material with mercury. Some materials may react with or absorb mercury, potentially altering the results. It's crucial to assess whether the chosen material is suitable for MIP, and if not, alternative techniques may need to be explored.

  2. Surface Wetting: Mercury, being a liquid, can wet the surface of certain materials. This can lead to inaccuracies in measuring the intrusion volume and, consequently, affect the derived pore size distribution. Specialized treatments or coatings may be required to mitigate surface wetting effects.

  3. Pore Shape Influence: MIP assumes cylindrical-shaped pores for calculation purposes. However, in reality, pores can have diverse shapes. Irregularly shaped pores or interconnected networks may not be accurately represented by the cylindrical model, introducing potential discrepancies in the results.

  4. Pressure-Induced Changes: The application of pressure during the intrusion process might induce structural changes in some materials. This pressure sensitivity can impact the accuracy of the obtained pore size distribution, especially in delicate or deformable materials.

  5. Mercury Handling Safety: Mercury is a toxic substance, and safety precautions are paramount during its handling and disposal. Laboratories conducting MIP must adhere to strict safety protocols to protect researchers and the environment.

  6. Data Interpretation Complexity: Interpreting MIP data requires a nuanced understanding of the material's characteristics and the intricacies of mercury intrusion. Researchers need to consider factors such as hysteresis in intrusion-extrusion cycles and differentiate between open and closed porosity for a comprehensive analysis.

  7. Cost and Equipment Complexity: Implementing MIP involves specialized equipment and can be cost-intensive. Additionally, the complexity of the equipment requires skilled operators. This might pose a barrier for smaller laboratories or industries with budget constraints.

Overcoming Challenges for Accurate Analysis:

  1. Advanced Material Preparation: Careful preparation of materials, including surface treatments and coatings, can help overcome issues related to surface wetting and ensure more accurate results.

  2. Alternative Techniques: In cases where material compatibility is a concern, considering alternative techniques like gas adsorption or capillary flow porometry might provide valuable complementary insights.

  3. Advanced Modeling: Incorporating advanced modeling techniques that go beyond the assumption of cylindrical pores can enhance the accuracy of pore size distribution analysis, especially for materials with complex pore structures.

  4. Safety Measures: Strict adherence to safety protocols in handling mercury is non-negotiable. Implementing comprehensive safety measures ensures the well-being of laboratory personnel and the environment.


In the microscopic world of materials, Mercury Intrusion Porosimetry acts as a key to unlocking the secrets held within the pores. From ceramics to polymers, this technique allows researchers and engineers to delve into the microcosm of materials, enabling advancements across various industries.


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