Non-Equilibrium Phenomena in Soft Matter
From cell biology to polymer photovoltaics, macromolecular structures and functionalities are the result of non-equilibrium (meaning that the system is in a state that is not the global free energy minimum) processes. While very important, so far it has been challenging to characterize, manipulate and understand these non-equilibrium processes because of the lack of appropriate techniques and theoretical approaches.
Progress in experimental and advanced computational modeling methodologies, now allows the observation of (supra-) molecular structural evolution across the wide range of length- and time scales, which is necessary to comprehend, and ultimately control and manipulate, the macroscopic (functional) properties of soft matter at the molecular level. Soft matter is particularly suited for that approach, as it is "slow" and easy to manipulate. From the experimental point of view, non-equilibrium states can be tuned through the material processing (e.g. crystallization in confined geometries, electrospinning, etc.).
On this track at MPI-P a whole range of projects contribute to this development. Template guided synthesis on superamphiphobic surfaces, able to repel any kind of liquid, allows to create core-shell supraparticles induced by drying of a solution containing two different kinds of nanoparticles. Or a superamphiphobic substrate can be used to guide the assembly of superparamagnetic (a kind of magnetism) nanoparticles into supraparticles of different shapes that still retain their superparamagnetic properties. We also analyze the effect of equilibrium and non-equilibrium conditions on formation of the ice and the implication on everyday activities such as ice skating. Multiscale simulation methods are developed that allow studying structure formation at the interface of polymer mixtures.
These few examples already demonstrate the wealth of challenging research opportunities the ubiquitous presence of non-equilibrium phenomena offers.