Edinburgh Soft Matter and Statistical Physics Programme Grant Renewal

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Physics and Astronomy

Abstract

The term 'soft matter' describes a group of materials that are assembled from components whose size scale is of order microns or nanometers -- much bigger than a typical molecule or atom. Examples include polymers (very long flexible molecules), colloids (small hard spheres), emulsions (droplets of one fluid in another), foams (gas bubbles in a fluid), detergent molecules (with a water-loving head and a water-hating tail -- these clump together into complex shapes), powders (small dry grains), and many analagous systems of biological origin. Familiar examples are respectively engine oil, paint, mayonnaise, shaving cream, shampoo, and talc; the biological analogues include mucus, slime moulds, saliva, and various components of the living cell.In many cases, the system's behaviour is controlled not by the chemical details of its components, but by their physical interactions, which are generic to each class of material. The softness of these materials, compared to (say) a piece of metal, arises from the fact that these interactions are generically weaker than those between atoms. This makes it easy to bend and shape the materials, and to subject them to extremes of flow (causing disruption to the structure) that cannot easily be achieved with metals or other forms of 'hard' condensed matter. The weakness of the interactions means that there is a lot of random motion (the motion we call heat) even at room temperature; the properties of soft materials are often closer to those found by maximising the entropy (randomness) of the system than to those found by minimizing its energy. Under these conditions, one must use the tools of 'statistical mechanics' to understand how the microscopic interactions, combined with entropy, come to determine the properties of the material.The Edinburgh Soft Matter and Statistical Physics Group has developed experimental and theoretical techniques for understanding how the ingredients of a soft material come to determine its properties -- particularly those properties related to how the material flows (the science of 'rheology'). Our work focusses on making detailed studies of a small number of model systems, each representative of a larger class: by understanding these in depth, we hope to find general principles that might not be obvious by collating more superficial results for a wider range of samples. We wish to continue our integrated programme in experiment and theory, to address new topics in soft condensed matter, increasingly those at the interface with biology. The five main projects are:1. Rheophysics -- to understand the behaviour of colloids and other soft materials under conditions of strong flow. Often, flow can totally alter the internal structure of such materials and we want to understand this.2. Physics of barriers in soft matter and biology -- to understand how soft and biological systems undergo 'rare events' taking them from one apparently stable state of organization to another. These include events that alter the way genes are expressed in a cell, and also the nucleation of one phase of matter within another.3. New soft materials -- building on our recent discoveries, we want to use physics to create new and interesting materials with properties potentially relevant to computer displays, drug delivery, catalysis and other fields.4. Physics of cellular motion -- we want to understand how bacteria (which, if they were dead, would be effectively colloids) behave when swimming, either individually, or collectively (in a swarm). At a smaller scale, within the cell there are various soft matter components which use a constant supply of chemical energy to maintain an 'active' (i.e. living) state. We want to understand these too.5. New statistical mechanics tools -- we want to develop new and better theories and simulation models that will, over the longer term, help us connect the microscopic components in soft materials to their macroscopic properties.

Publications

10 25 50
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Ackland G (2011) The MOLDY short-range molecular dynamics package in Computer Physics Communications

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Alexander G (2008) Cubic blue phases in electric fields in EPL (Europhysics Letters)

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Ballesta P (2008) Slip and flow of hard-sphere colloidal glasses. in Physical review letters

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Barrett-Freeman C (2008) Nonequilibrium phase transition in the sedimentation of reproducing particles. in Physical review letters

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Barrett-Freeman C (2010) The role of noise and advection in absorbing state phase transitions in EPL (Europhysics Letters)

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Besseling R (2010) Shear banding and flow-concentration coupling in colloidal glasses. in Physical review letters

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Besseling R (2009) Quantitative imaging of colloidal flows. in Advances in colloid and interface science

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Brader JM (2008) First-principles constitutive equation for suspension rheology. in Physical review letters

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Brader JM (2009) Glass rheology: From mode-coupling theory to a dynamical yield criterion. in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

 
Description I will not attempt to summarize the findings which were reported in 142 separate scientific papers. Highlights included a new theory of pattern formation in bacterial colonies; a new understanding of how dense colloidal suspensions get jammed when flowing down pipes; a new understanding of the self-assembly of protein fragments (relevant to prion disease); and a new understanding of the plastic flow of glasses.
Exploitation Route The research outcomes of this grant are being exploited by our new partner organization, Edinburgh Complex Fluids Partnership, who actively seek industrial partners with whom to exploit the research. They have a client list of around 25 companies and live collaborations with about ten of these.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Healthcare,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

 
Description The research has allowed us to set up a new in-house tech-transfer organization called Edinburgh Complex Fluids Partnership (ECFP). This new organization with two full-time staff has active contacts with about 25 companies ranging from multinationals to SMEs and is pursuing direct collaborative research with about ten of these. For example, the work on dense colloids has led to collaborative projects with Johnson Matthey, Syngenta and Mars Chocolate.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Healthcare
Impact Types Economic

 
Description BBSRC Grouped
Amount £262,463 (GBP)
Funding ID BB/I006133/1 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2011 
End 12/2013
 
Description BBSRC Grouped
Amount £262,463 (GBP)
Funding ID BB/I006133/1 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2011 
End 12/2013
 
Description EPSRC
Amount £174,452 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/I030298/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2011 
End 09/2013
 
Description EPSRC
Amount £491,766 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/I034661/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2012 
End 04/2015
 
Description EPSRC
Amount £5,039,693 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/J007404/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2011 
End 05/2017
 
Description European Commission (EC)
Amount £186,800 (GBP)
Funding ID PIIF-GA-2010_276190 
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 03/2011 
End 03/2013
 
Description Mars UK Ltd
Amount £417,510 (GBP)
Funding ID Poon 
Organisation Mars Incorporated UK 
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2012 
End 08/2015
 
Description Royal Society of Edinburgh, The
Amount £224,415 (GBP)
Funding ID Thijssen BP Trust Personal Research Fellowship 
Organisation Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) 
Sector Learned Society
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2010 
End 08/2014
 
Description Royal Society of London
Amount £97,248 (GBP)
Funding ID 4899 
Organisation The Royal Society 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2011 
End 05/2013
 
Description Syngenta
Amount £91,665 (GBP)
Funding ID Industrial CASE voucher 11440214 
Organisation Syngenta International AG 
Sector Public
Country Global
Start 09/2011 
End 03/2015
 
Description Syngenta
Amount £91,665 (GBP)
Funding ID Industrial CASE voucher 11440214 
Organisation Syngenta International AG 
Sector Public
Country Global
Start 09/2011 
End 03/2015