• Viscosity's relation to shear rate

    Viscosity's relation to shear rate

    A Crack in the Mystery of ‘Oobleck’—Friction Thickens Fluids. From Physical Review Letters. See News Item.

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  • Protein assembly behavior

    Protein assembly behavior

    Protein assembly behavior on nanoscale polymeric surfaces revealed at the individual protein and sub-protein level for non-competing and competing adsorption environments.

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  • Polarizing optical micrographs of gels

    Polarizing optical micrographs of gels

    Polarizing optical micrographs at 24 oC of gels of 2 wt % (R)-12-hydroxy-N-propyloctadecanamide in silicone oil prepared by (a) fast-cooling and (b) slow-cooling protocols of the sol phases.

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  • helical fiber cut and moved by AFM tip

    helical fiber cut and moved by AFM tip

    AFM images of a 2 wt % (R)-12-hydroxy-N-(2-hydroxyethyl)octadecanamide in silicone oil gel before (A) and after (B) a portion of helical fiber was cut and moved by the AFM tip as noted by the blue arrows.

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  • Shear-induced silk fibers

    Shear-induced silk fibers

    A silkworm surrounded by spun silk, and a confocal image of shear-induced silk fibers.

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  • Amyloid fibril modeled as a polar chiral filament

    Amyloid fibril modeled as a polar chiral filament

    Amyloid fibril (left) on air-water interface, modeled as a polar chiral filament (center, right) which, by symmetry, develops a spontaneous curvature at the interface.

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  • PNAS Cover of Simulated Cement Hydrates

    PNAS Cover of Simulated Cement Hydrates

    Image of Simulated Cement Hydrate formation, from PNAS, February 2016. See News Item

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  • Conformations of core-shell nanoparticles

    Conformations of core-shell nanoparticles

    Conformations of core-shell nanoparticles at a liquid interfaces from numerical simulations.

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  • C-S-H Gels

    C-S-H Gels

    Model of calcium-silicate-hydrate gels formed during cement hydration from numerical simulations.

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  • Stress localization

    Stress localization

    Stress localization in a model colloidal gel under shear.

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  • Highly polydisperse colloid

    Highly polydisperse colloid

    Computer simulation of phase separation in a highly polydisperse colloid.

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  • Phase separation in a lipid bilayer

    Phase separation in a lipid bilayer

    Computer simulation of phase separation in a lipid bilayer, which is thought to be related to the functioning of the cell membrane

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  • Tetracyanoquinodimethane


    A colorized SEM image of a nanocrystal of tetracyanoquinodimethane.

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  • Axon in Collagen

    Axon in Collagen

    Axon navigating in a 3D collagen gel. The actin from the axon is labeled in green, the microtubules red, and the collagen fibrils in magenta.

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  • Boundary stress microscopy of collagen gel

    Boundary stress microscopy of collagen gel

    3D confocal microscopy image of a collagen gel polymerized on top of a uniform elastic substrate containing fluorescent beads.

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  • Sheared suspension of micron-scale rods

    Sheared suspension of micron-scale rods

    3D confocal microscopy image a disordered aggregate formed by shearing a suspension of micron-scale rods.

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Workshop on Dense Colloidal Suspensions was held Thursday/Friday 16-17 June 2016). You can read about it Here.

The emerging field of soft matter research deals with the study of materials that exist between rigid solids and flowing liquids. Familiar examples include foams, gels, adhesives, lubricants, and many biological materials, such as blood or tissue. Soft matter plays an increasingly important role in commercial applications and new technologies, but behaves fundamentally differently from traditional, relatively well understood solids and liquids. The goal of current soft matter research is to understand and control the molecular scale structure of soft matter in order to engineer new classes of materials. Georgetown’s Institute for Soft Matter Synthesis and Metrology, or I(SM)2, launched in 2011 as the result of $6.9 Million construction grant from NIST, serves to catalyze the development of fundamental principles and practical measurement tools that can be applied to soft matter synthesis and precision measurement and characterization (metrology). The Institute comprises faculty primarily from the Departments of Physics and Chemistry, as well as Oncology in the Medical School.


Soft Materials have an astonishing range of applications, in products that we use everyday. Here are just a few examples of the industries built on soft matter. This is not an exhaustive list!

  • Plastics - all plastics are made of soft matter (polymers).
  • Paints - Paints are a mix of polymers, pigments, and colloidal particles. Making non-drip paint requires intimate knowledge of the rheology of dense suspensions, and understanding the non-equilibrium process of paint drying is crucial to develop a fine smooth finish. Coatings (on glass, wire, and metals) involves similar science.
  • Textiles - similarly, all textiles are made of soft matter. Understanding why silk is such a fantastic material is of great current interest!
  • Food - Everything we eat is soft matter, and understanding how to process, package, and even eat food materials involves a range of interesting scientific problems. There is even a field called "psycho-rheology" that studies how the physical texture of food influences how we perceive and ultimately enjoy it.
  • Personal Care Products - Creams, lotions, soaps, and other materials are soft matter, and product design involves detailed knowledge of the physics and chemistry of the materials, as well as processing.
  • Life - Biology is literally active soft matter, and the subject of enormous growth and interest from physics and chemistry, as well as biology and medicine of course. Non-equilibrium phenomena are at the heart of life and its myriad function.
  • Energy - The oil industry is built on soft matter, there is a great push on using soft polymeric materials to make solar cells. Looking to biology, the process of photosynthesis and harvesting light for energy relies on soft matter physics and chemistry.
  • Construction Materials - Wood, plaster, and cement all begin as soft materials. Wood begins as living matter comprising different polymers, and plaster and cement come from  dense colloidal liquids whose properties and behavior, upon adding water and subsequently drying, lead to the materials used for walls, roads, and bridges.


Our research focuses on understanding the non-equilibrium behavior of soft matter, all the way from chemical details to coarse-grained modeling. We have a strong focus on integrating our understanding through novel metrologies. 

  • Precision tools and techniques for measuring and manipulating the microstructure of complex materials under controlled conditions
  • Micro- and nano-scale probes for measuring the mechanical properties of microscopic quantities of soft matter to probe connections among microstructure, mechanical properties, and processing conditions.
  • Synthesis and characterization of nanoparticle dispersions, including the dynamics of self-assembly of molecular precursors and novel approaches to polymerization.
  • Synthesis and characterization of self-assembled fibrillar networks, investigations of the self-assembly processes under induced stress, such as that from light, shear, or magnetic fields.
  • Methods and tools to guide and characterize interactions between cells and engineered biocompatible environments. Control over structural, mechanical and biochemical conditions to allow for a better understanding of cell function in physiologically relevant conditions and control of cell function through materials engineering.


The I(SM)2 serves to catalyze regional and national collaborations and disseminate tools and principles of soft matter synthesis, protocols for processing, and metrology. This Institute supports the regional conference series, The Mid-Atlantic Soft Matter (MASM) Workshops. MASM was established in 2007 by Georgetown scientists to encourage inter-institution collaboration, and provides an effective venue for promoting interaction among soft matter researchers from academic, industrial and national laboratories in the Mid-Atlantic region. The workshops are informal and structured to maximize participation, breadth, and involvement of young researchers.