New opportunities for soft matter science at the ISIS second target station.
Soft matter encompasses a wide range of substances including polymers, surfactants (including detergents), liquid crystals, micelles (clumps of polar molecules), and microemulsions. All of these share the same basic properties – weak interactions between structural units and large numbers of ways to arrange themselves internally. And when they are touched, they actually feel soft
The physical and chemical properties of soft matter are increasingly important in a wide range of applications. Characterisation requires information over a wide range of microscopic distances and time-scales in order to control practical effects such as rubber elasticity, detergency, stickiness, and lubrication.
Research interests are increasingly motivated by the commercial significance of products that are complex mixtures of components. For example, many industrial processes involve flow and processing of soft matter, and knowing how things behave when deliberately aligned by extrusion or mixed in turbulent conditions is vitally important. Another example is aggregation and self-assembly in supercritical fluids, offering opportunities for the development of safe, alternative solvents in flavour extraction and dry cleaning processes.
From light-weight, high-strength materials through to detergents, large molecular systems continue to increase in importance. With its ability to probe structure on length scales ranging from the atomic to the macro-molecular, neutron scattering will continue to make a dramatic impact on the understanding, development and use of soft-matter.
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