research lines

Soft Matter

. Science of Matter

Among the extensive variety of soft matter materials, colloidal systems, i.e. fluid suspensions of micron-sized polymer spheres, are particularly interesting, not only for their ubiquitous nature (colloids are present in creams, foams, smoke, paints, etc..), but also because they provide a rich playground for basic Condensed Matter Physics. Colloidal particles display Brownian motion, size in the visible wavelength and dynamics in experimentally accessible time frames. Yet interactions in colloidal systems can be easily tailored in strength and range via the application of relatively small external fields. These striking features make colloids excellent models for the study of behavior and dynamics in dissipative systems with intrinsic noise, i.e. systems broadly distributed in many physical, chemical and biological disciplines.

UBICS researchers have recently discovered a new scenario for a first-order phase transition that occurs via a complete inversion of the system energy landscape. This phenomenon was termed the “landscape inversion phase transition” (LIPT) and was observed by applying an external magnetic field to an assembly of paramagnetic colloids two dimensionally confined above a stripe patterned magnetic substrate. Another recent breakthrough in the optical manipulation of colloidal microspheres demonstrated the possibility of confining a cluster of particles into a circular assembly, and rotating the outer particle corona via laser tweezing. This colloidal model system was used as a microscopic clutch to investigate the transmission of torque through soft materials at the nanoscale. Another line of UBICS research focuses on understanding how curved colloidal crystalline shells can adapt their shape and resist failure. This is of fundamental importance because these structures are at the forefront of the drive to fabricate new functionalized self-assembled materials. Some biological structures, such as virus capsids, also represent nearly-ideal examples of spherical crystallography. Studies by UBICS researchers highlight the fundamental role played by geometrically necessary crystal defects, such as the pentagons in a soccer ball, in controlling mechanical stability and plastic deformation of these colloidal shells.