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Soft Matter

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 basi 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.

Second target station instruments provide new opportunities for soft matter studies, including:

  • Surface, interfacial and bulk properties of complex fluids (polymers, surfactants, colloids)
  • Interfacial studies: self-assembly and ordering of complex mixtures of surfactants, polymers and proteins at interfaces, with emphasis on kinetic processes and multi-component systems at technologically relevant interfaces (liquid-liquid and liquid-solid), thin film devices
  • Processing of soft solids: relationship between microscopic structure and bulk properties (rheology) in industrially relevant fluid fields
  • Self-assembly: structure of lyotropic mesophases, micro-emulsions and vesicles, with emphasis on dynamics of structural phase changes, association and disassociation, and self-assembly in super-critical fluids
  • In-situ electrochemistry
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