Recognizing that some of the leading scientists and engineers involved in the field of soft matter research are located in the Research Triangle Park area, the National Science Foundation has provided a six-year, $13.6 million grant to establish a multi-university center to investigate aspects of this promising area of scientific endeavor.
Researchers from Duke University, North Carolina State University (NC State), University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) and North Carolina Central University (NCCU) will focus their collective expertise on facets of soft matter research, a branch of materials science with almost limitless practical applications, from organic solar cells to tissue implants to new classes of drugs.
In general terms, soft matter describes such states of matter as foams, gels, polymers or emulsions. They are typically created by combining smaller particles – such as DNA, proteins, nanoparticles – to form larger structures with novel properties. The researchers involved in this project will not only investigate how and why these particles assemble in certain ways, but also how this assembly can be manipulated to achieve soft matter with defined characteristics. The new initiative will be known as the Triangle Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC). It joins a network of university centers across the country, each of which has a specific focus on a cutting edge area of materials science.
In our department, Profs. Yaroslava Yingling and Prof. Joseph Tracy will participate in this new center, which consists of two thrusts, known as interdisciplinary research groups (IRGs). Prof. Tracy will investigate how nanoparticles assemble in fluids, in order to learn how to fabricate new materials with unique properties and functions (as part of IRG1). Prof. Yingling will serve as an education leader and a member of steering committee. She will use simulations and modeling techniques to develop a “syntax” of polymers, DNA and proteins that can assemble into nanoscale structures (as part of IRG2).