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The milk we drink in the morning (a colloidal dispersion), the gel we put into our hair (a polymer solution), and the plaque that we try to scrub off our teeth (a biofilm) are all familiar examples of soft materials. Such materials also hold great promise in helping to solve engineering challenges like water remediation, oil recovery, carbon sequestration, and drug delivery.
As a field, we have made tremendous progress in understanding the bulk behavior of soft materials. However, applications often rely on how these materials behave in complex environments: where confinement, tortuosity, and other physical/chemical factors alter material microstructure, the material itself alters the environment, and these coupled interactions give rise to non-trivial emergent behavior. Understanding and controlling these interactions is a new frontier for engineering; this is what our lab aims to do.
We tackle this challenge by integrating microscopy and image analysis, microfluidics and rheology, and materials processing and characterization. We also complement our experiments with theoretical modeling, using ideas from fluid dynamics, polymer physics, soft mechanics, equilibrium and non-equilibrium statistical mechanics, and network theory. Our work is thus highly collaborative and multi-disciplinary, combining expertise from engineering, physics, chemistry, biology, and materials science.
We strive to do fundamental research that can make a meaningful, positive impact in society; we do this by focusing on materials and environments relevant to emerging problems in energy, environmental science, and biotechnology. Descriptions of some of our ongoing projects are below, and the results are described in our publications. To find out more, please get in touch!
Our lab has developed expertise to make disordered porous rocks, with controllable pore structures, that are transparent. This capability allows us to visualize multi-phase flow within them in 3D, with high spatial and temporal resolution, over length scales ranging from smaller than a pore to that of the entire medium. We have already used this platform to elucidate the physical origin of fluctuations and instabilities in some immiscible fluid flows. We are currently building on our work to answer questions like:
Our lab has developed tools to study diverse deformable porous materials including packings of soft particles, bulk gels, polymeric microcapsules, and even biological organs. We are using these tools to study the coupling between structure, mechanics, and transport in these systems and answer questions like:
Our lab has developed new experimental and computational tools to probe how polymer properties, fluid dynamics, and soft mechanics can regulate biological structures in the body. We are using these tools to address questions like:
Our lab has developed tools to study how physical and chemical effects shape bacterial communities and their functions. We have also developed tools to create communities with well-defined architectures and compositions. We are using these tools to understand and control how collective behaviors, like macroscopic motion, robustness to stresses, and the ability to perform chemical reactions, emerge in bacterial communities. Specifically, we seek to answer questions like: