Soft Matter and Polymers

Research into soft molecular matter involves exploring the properties of polymers, surfactants, colloids, gels, glass, nanocomposites, and even simple fluids. These synthetic materials can be used to artificially mimic the functions of biological materials, they can be built to self-assemble into collective structures with exciting new properties, and they can be used as cheap and recyclable construction materials. Because these materials are mainly composed of lighter elements such as carbon and hydrogen, neutron scattering is an ideal tool to reveal their structures.

Like biological materials, soft matter and polymers form from small molecular building blocks into larger chains of molecules and molecular assemblies. This similarity enables scientists to apply knowledge of biological structures to develop entirely new forms of functional materials. Studies have shown that the strength, durability, and functionality of these materials depend strongly on the temperature, pressure, chemical environment, and other conditions present when they were produced. Scientists are also aiming to understand how to handle these materials—from production through their use in sensors, replacement body parts, packaging materials, and many other applications.

Soft molecular matter research at SNS and HFIR focuses on:

  • Designing and synthesizing energy-efficient and revolutionary new forms of matter that have specific, tailored properties.
  • Understanding and controlling the complex, atomic-level interactions of magnetic and electrical properties in materials.
  • Mastering energy and information at the nano level to create technologies with new capabilities based on responsive materials.
  • Handling materials to obtain the best possible macroscopic or functional properties.