Many natural phenomena are difficult to study as they occur very quickly, at very small scales and in complex systems with many competing processes. As such, experimental model systems that are simpler but display analogous physics can provide powerful insights into these natural phenomena. Soft matter, broadly defined as encompassing liquids, colloids, polymers, gels, foams, liquid crystals, granular materials and even biological systems, is a very rich source of these experimental model systems. Given that soft materials have myriad industrial applications, from food to cosmetics to device displays, their fundamental understanding is also of substantial importance in more applied settings.
Work in our group primarily focuses on two key types of systems:
- Highly-controlled mesoscale models from colloids, microfluidics and optical tweezers
- Nanoscale systems built from solid-state nanopores, DNA and molecular polymers.
Our current aim is to exploit these models to understand fluctuations and transport of materials in driven, out-of-equilibrium conditions. Working with this range of systems allows us to probe phenomena from the single particle to continuum limit and to identify universal physical behaviour across different length and time scales. Understanding these processes is important in a wide variety of different scenarios, from understanding biological transport to improving state-of-the-art molecular sensing and DNA sequencing devices. More fundamentally, elucidating the statistical mechanics of non-equilibrium systems represents a significant challenge and we collaborate closely with theory and computational groups working in this area