Among the most exciting areas of research are the intersections between two main areas; Soft-condensed Matter / Biophysics and Nanoscience. Among the most exciting areas of research in soft-condensed matter physics (or complex fluids) are proteins, liquid-crystals, polymers, liquid-crystalline polymers, and nano-colloidal composites. Many fundamental questions regarding the cooperative behavior of liquid-crystals, the mechanical properties of polymers, and the whole area of bio-physics remain open. In addition, these complex fluids have been recently combined with unique nano-structures to form new materials with un-imagined applications in nanoscience. In addition, research concentrating on liquid-crystals, through the idea of universality, has many connections with other physical systems such as high-TC superconductors, superfluids, charge density waves, and biological systems. These interconnections among the systems of interest are at the core of the mission of Soft-Matter and Nano-Science research at WPI: to understand the fundamental of how nature self-assembles and organizes itself, a phenomena of order-disorder effects in complex pure and composite materials.
The study of liquid-crystal phase transitions has provided many important tests for the modern theory of critical phenomena and as such is important materials for research in these areas. Thus, the study of mesophasic materials is of wide interest in science. While the understanding of pure/bulk behavior has some important questions remaining, the fundamental approach has been firmly established and a triumph of statistical mechanics. In contrast, the general understanding of the effects of quenched random disorder remains a challenging area. Liquid-crystalline systems perturbed by quenched disorder, such as confinement to restrictive porous structures, addresses fundamental questions as to the crossover from first to continuous (or supercritical) phase transitions, the influence of boundary conditions through surfaces, and the influence of the restrictive structure's topology.
The general description above can be summarized as the study of fundamentally new physical effects in nanoscience across a wide range of length-scales. This is accomplished by embedding nano-composites comprised of a complex fluid (such as liquid crystal or liquid crystalline polymer) and colloidal nanocrystals (quantum dots, nano-wires, -tubes, -pipes) into a (3D) porous host or bounding with a planar surface (where the boundary conditions can be modified). Such a physical system is a model test-bed for exploring these new phenomena with applications in Biomedical Optics and Instrumentation (biosensors) and engineered Nano-optics.
Order-Disorder Phenomena Laboratory
The Order-Disorder Phenomena Laboratory (ODPL) at WPI focuses on a wide variety of soft-matter/liquid crystal/nano-composite thermophysical properties research, at the fundamental and applied levels. Phase structure, transitions, and dynamics of complex materials ranging from liquid crystals, polymers, and biomaterials (proteins, lipid self-assembly, etc) to nano-composites/colloids of these materials with nano-particles (quantum dots, nanowires, tubes, pipes, etc.) and porous media (aerogels, anopore, etc). The nearly 800 sqr ft lab has both wet and dry areas fully serviced with compressed air, gas, stabilized power, and high-speed internet data connections. All experiments are linked via the internet to a cloud server at WPI for full data storage, management, and sharing.
The major facilities within this laboratory are: