Published: 13 August 2019

New project to solve mysteries of star-like molecules

Surrey’s Department of Physics has won funding to investigate why star-like molecules behave in different ways – which could pave the way for improved inks, adhesives and even cosmetics.

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The two-year research project, which begins in September, is funded by the American Chemical Society through its Petroleum Research Fund and will be led by Professor Joseph Keddie and Dr Richard Sear of Surrey’s Soft Matter Group.

The researchers will study molecules of different shapes and sizes, looking at what happens when they are dissolved in a liquid and allowed to dry on a surface. They will focus particularly on star-like molecules (known as star polymers) which have ‘arms’ emanating from a central point. Using experiments and computer simulations, the team aims to find answers to questions such as why large polymer molecules sometimes act like a long string, and at other times more like a spherical particle.

The project also aims to extend Surrey’s understanding of diffusiophoresis – where one type of molecule is moved around by a second type – and will explore what happens when combinations of different molecules are dried into a coating, and how certain types of molecules end up in a surface layer. This research could potentially enable products such as inks which can spread and adhere better to surfaces, have the desired level of glossiness, or even conduct electricity.

Linked to the research project, a workshop on diffusiophoresis is due to take place in Switzerland in October, organised by Dr Sear, leader of Surrey’s Soft Matter Group. Dr Sear explained: “The workshop brings together scientists from as far away as Texas and Beijing. It is not just fun physics - we’ll look at how to make better products, ranging from baby milk to tarmac.”

Professor Keddie commented: “This new project will build on our work over the past few years on the subject of diffusiophoresis. Our research has been capturing attention, and I am delighted that it will continue with this new funding. I am also happy that we will be hiring some undergraduate physicists to join the team, as a way to build research skills in future generations.”


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