Research area: PATTERN FORMATION AND INTERFACE GROWTH
Soft materials are a vast and ubiquitous class of structured and complex systems which include polymers, supramolecular aggregates, emulsions, liquid crystals and membranes. All these systems exist in a condensed phase, but none of them can be described unambigously as a liquid or a solid. As opposed to conventional solid materials, the physical properties of soft materials are largely determined by soft and fluctuating interfaces, the physics of which is dominated by entropy. The small-scale structure of soft materials and their associated interfaces, in the range from nanometers to microns, are of seminal importance for the physical and functional properties of these materials. Important examples include technical adhesives; liposomal micro-encapsulation technologies for drug delivery; emulsification agents for drug formulation, cosmetics, food stabilization, and tertiary oil recovery; and amphiphilic monolayer and bilayers for nano- and microelectronic devices like biochemical sensors.
A study of the formation and stabilization of the microstructure of soft materials involves the principles of far-from-equilibrium thermodynamics and highly non-linear dynamic ordering processes. Special attension is paid to ordering mechanisms that lead to steady-state patterns generated by the flux of energy from external sources. Studies are conducted of the generic and universal properties of these dynamic ordering processes using microscopic models from statistical mechanics as well as phenomenological continuum mechanics models. Particular applications include many-component fluid mixtures, fluid mixtures with surfactants and detergents, block co-polymer systems, and supra-molecular lipid assemblies.