NEWS FROM THE LAB
Watching materials heal at the nanoscale
All materials we encounter in daily life inevitably suffer from damage during their use, resulting from wear and tear, abrasion, scratching, impact or corrosion. This damage starts at the smallest scale, with a few molecules breaking locally; however, as the damage accumulates it will ultimately cause the failure of the material as a whole, for example by fracture or fatigue. In the past decades, strategies have been developed to stop material damage in its tracks by imparting self-healing capabilities to a new generation of high-tech materials. Self-healing materials spontaneously and autonomously repair internal damage, without the intervention of a user, and thus avoid the otherwise unstoppable path towards catastrophic failure.
Colloids form a fascinating platform to explore the physics of solid materials. We use a variety of tailored colloidal systems to study the structure and dynamics of highly correlated colloidal solids.
In practical situations, colloids often experience extremely non-equilibrium conditions. For example when strongly confined and sheared during microprocessing, or during drying and cracking in the formation of paint films. We develop new optical tools to study how colloids behave in these scenarios.
Conjugated polymers exhibit a unique coupling between mechanically-induced conformational changes and their electronic structure. This results in mechanochromism which can be exploited to measure forces at the nanoscale. We exploit this approach, combined with molecular engineering, spectroscopy and imaging to shed new light on soft materials.