A new Mainz-based Emmy Noether independent junior research group headed by physicist Dr. Arash Nikoubashman is aiming to explain the principles behind the transport and controlled arrangement of colloidal particles. Colloidal suspensions, in other words, tiny particles suspended in a liquid, are omnipresent in nature and technology, for example as proteins and enzymes in biological systems or as surfactants in the fossil oil production chain. The self-assembly of these particles into ordered structures shows great promise for use in manufacturing materials with nanoscopic features. Such materials are used, for instance, as catalytic converters and optical modules. However, spontaneously formed structures usually have numerous defective spots, which is a problem for many applications. The goal of Nikoubashman’s research proposal "Controlled Transport and Assembly of Soft Complex Matter" is to combine the two areas of microfluidics, i.e., the flow of liquids on the micro- and nanoscale, and self-assembly in soft materials to establish a more profound understanding as well as new uses. Such an approach allows for a much more accurate control of the size and form of the structures that emerge with only minimal additional effort.
The research project makes an important contribution to our basic understanding of the non-equilibrium dynamics in soft materials and plays a central role in the future development of devices for effectively manipulating and fabricating colloidal particles. The objectives of the project also have significant impact far beyond that of the main field of research. The ability to separate colloids based on their size and plasticity is of immense significance, for example in biotechnology, where such properties can frequently be used to interpret indications of diseases such as anemia or cancer. Furthermore, microfluidics can be used in water purification to filter out contaminants of nano- or micro-meter size.
The work by Dr. Arash Nikoubashman's research group is based on an integration of statistical physics and latest supercomputer simulation techniques. The methods developed during the course of the project have high relevance for scientific and industrial applications and will be made publicly accessible. While the project itself is theory-based, it will be conducted in close collaboration with experimentalists in order to verify the newly developed theories and to support the development of innovative equipment and materials. Existing collaborations between Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) as host institution and other leading facilities in Germany, Europe, and the USA will be expanded and new ones created within the framework of this project.
The Emmy Noether independent junior research group, which is part of the Condensed Matter Theory Group (KOMET) at the Institute of Physics at Mainz University, will be funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) in the coming years. With its Emmy Noether Program, the DFG wants to open the door to scientific autonomy by giving researchers the opportunity to head a junior research group and, with that, acquire the skills to become university teachers. Groups are usually funded for a period of five years. Before coming to Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Dr. Arash Nikoubashman was involved in research at Princeton University in the USA for the last three years.