Surface Science – Surfaces and Interfaces in Environmental Nanotechnology (SIeN)

Dr. Espinosa-Marzal’s lab aims to understand  the fundamentals of soft matter interfaces required to design novel materials and interfaces for a wide range of applications in technology and medicine and motivated by the grand challenges in engineering, specifically those related to engineering better medicine, clean water access and energy storage technologies for sustainable energy sources. Soft matter includes liquids, colloids, polymers, gels, granular materials, and biological materials. For example, soft matter interfaces play an important role in life as it affects the functionality of cell membranes, they are essential for nanomedicine, and they play 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 at interfaces and 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 design of biomaterials, fluid engineering, tribology and lubrication, energy storage, water nanofiltration, environmental chemistry, and other separation techniques, as well as for the optimized design of nanomaterials and in geophysics and geochemistry.

The fundamental areas of  research are following:

  • Surface forces
  • Electrical double layer (e.g. on graphene, in ionic liquids, in nanofiltration membranes)
  • Structural and dynamic properties of nanoconfined fluids
  • Biomineralization pathways
  • Lubrication mechanisms of soft matter, friction and adhesion
  • Mechano- and tribochemical processes at mineral-solution interfaces
  • Surface functionalization

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.

Open positions for graduate and undergraduate students: Interested in an independent project? Contact me.


  • Independent projects for undergraduate students. Contact us!
  • PhD Student Tooba Shoaib wins First Poster Prize at the STLE Tribology Frontiers Conference 2018, in Chicago. She presented a poster on the mechanisms of hydrogel lubrication. Congrats Tooba!
  • Exciting Special Issue “Surface Forces, Adhesion and Friction“, guest editors: Younjin Min, Rosa M. Espinosa-Marzal, and Seong H. Kim. Submit your paper to Colloids and Interfaces, an open access MDPI Journal. Deadline for manuscript submission: 30 April 2019.
  • Our research in Hydrogel Lubrication has been recently featured as Cutting Edge Research in the Journal “Tribology & Lubrication Technology” (TLT). Read about it here. Congrats Tooba for an outstanding publication!
  • Gus Greenwood has been awarded Bienvenido M. Esmilla Memorial Writing Award in the Spring 2018 ! Well done, Gus!
  • Yijue won the first poster award at the Gordon Research Conference on Tribology and was elected as the chair of the next Gordon Research Seminars (GRS) for young investigators that will take place in 2020! 2xCongratulations to Yijue!
  • Josue Lopez was awarded the TechnipFMC Fellowship at UIUC in Spring 2018 to recognize his research on mineralized soft matter! Congratulations Josue!
  • Check our newest results about the role of water in fault lubrication!
  • Submit your paper to Lubricants, an open access Tribology Journal, in the Special Issue “Ionic Liquids: Friction and Lubrication Mechanisms“. Deadline for manuscript submission: 30 June 2018 (extended!).
  • Interesting upcoming symposium in Nanotribology -Molecular Mechanisms in Tribology – in October 2018 in Postdam (Germany). Registration is still open.

Past Events: