Our group studies “soft” materials, which are solid but nonetheless easily deformed. These include many things of great importance to human society such as food products, soaps, paints, oil, plastics, glues, gels, liquid crystals, foams, colloids, and biological matter. We develop models that try to predict the properties of these materials from an understanding of their nano- and microscopic structure. Scientists and engineers can then use these insights to develop new and better materials with desired properties for applications. A sample of current research areas:
Order on Curved Surfaces
Curvature can greatly change ordering. A classic problem, packing spheres as tightly possible, has a simple solution in flat space, leading to hexagonal packings in 2D and hexagonal close packed structures in 3D. On a curved surface, voids in the packing are required to accommodate the curvature. Our research studies the structure and location of these voids and how they are affected by nonuniform curvature and different sized particles.
Soft materials, by definition, easily change shape. Soap films, for example, adjust their shape to minimize surface area and droplets of liquid crystal form elongated ‘tactoid’ droplets due to their internal elasticity. Such systems are challenging to simulate, because the quality of the numerical representation must be maintained as the computer explores the space of possible shapes. We have developed a generic set of methods to do this, and are in the process of creating a program, Morpho, that will help other researchers solve this broad category of problems.
Patterning and confinement
Patterned boundaries are a powerful way of controlling the self-assembly of soft matter, leading to rich spatial organization that can be controlled by altering geometric features of the pattern. We develop predictive tools to determine how the structure depends on the pattern, as well as tracking the numerous solutions that typically occur in these complicated geometries.
A complete bibliography of our scientific papers is available on the Publications page. We warmly invite anyone who is interested in learning more about our research, or who feels their own work might interest us, to contact us.
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