Soft matter at Interfaces and under Nanoconfinement (SIeN)

Confinement of Soft matter (liquids, colloids, polymers, gels, granular materials, and biological materials) plays an important role in life as it affects the functionality of cell membranes, it is essential for nanomedicine, and it plays a significant role in global climate change through precipitation of CO2-binding carbonates in pores and cracks, geomorphological processes of the Earth’s crust, and earthquakes, and even in mineralization within organisms and in man-made enhanced oil recovery. Furthermore, future resources for the water and energy needs of our society, such as supercapacitors for energy storage and water desalination by nanofiltration membranes, rely significantly on the behavior of liquids in nanopores. Motivated by the global challenges of water, energy and health, Dr. Espinosa-Marzal’s research group aims to determine how the properties of soft matter change under nanoconfinement and to elucidate the physical, chemical and mechanical principles that dictate such modified behavior. Understanding the response of these systems is essential in many areas of research including tribology and lubrication, energy storage, water nanofiltration and other separation techniques, as well as for the optimized design of nanomaterials.

The current main research activities in the group can be summarized as follows:

  • Scrutinize surface forces and structural and dynamic properties of nanoconfined fluids (e.g.  nano-rheology of lubricants, nano-structure of ionic liquids)
  • Electrical double layer in nanopores; electrical double layer of ionic liquids on graphene
  • Advance the knowledge of molecular-scale lubrication mechanisms of soft matter, including polymer brushes, surfactants, and hydrogels, with the goal to derive a universal relationship between molecular structure and lubrication performance
  • Understand and predict nanoscale friction and adhesion
  • Rationalize the mechano-chemical processes that occur at mineral-solution interfaces at the nanoscale, as well as its connection to macroscopic geophysical and geochemical phenomena
  • Design new methods for surface functionalization to achieve control over surface properties
  • Mineralization and crystallization pathways

The ultimate goal is to understand how to exploit intermolecular interactions to tailor macroscopic properties. The current research targets both to answer fundamental and scientifically relevant questions and to solve problems that are relevant to applications.