The main focus of our research group is the study soft and living matter at surfaces and interfaces. The physics of soft materials is distinct from hard matter as the weaker intermolecular bonds result in a large response to external stresses. We study mainly polymeric materials, but also C. elegans (a small nematode), bacteria, living cells and soft-colloidal systems. Understanding material properties at a fundamental level is crucial to the development of new technologies. A surprising aspect of these materials is that on small length scales, like in thin films or coatings, these materials can have properties that differ vastly from those of bulk systems. The differences can be the result of molecules being confined or because the interface plays a greater role in smaller systems.
While retaining significant activity in fundamental studies of polymeric systems on the nano-scale, in recent years our research has also moved into new directions. These include greater efforts at the interface of biology and soft matter, as well as a bourgeoning emphasis on complex fluids beyond polymeric. Current directions of our research in soft and living matter can be summarized under four broad and overlapping areas: 1) Biophysics: micro-swimmers, collective motion, and vesicles. 2) Complex fluids at interfaces: elastocapillarity and soft colloids. 3) Fluids on the micro/nanoscale: nanorheology, confinement, the glass transition. 4) Self assembly and patterning.
The broad range of problems studied in the research team is largely the result of a somewhat opportunistic approach to research. Simply stated, we often stumble upon interesting detours that have resulted in exciting and fun research. Over time some diversions have developed into fully established research directions. Though the projects are diverse, they share a common theme of small length scales, surfaces, and interfaces, with a common physical foundation. The main experimental tools used focus on characterization of surfaces, imaging, and force measurement.