Our research focuses on the basic understanding of the physical mechanisms behind the structural and dynamical properties of complex materials, with a particular attention towards the self-assembly of micro- and nanoparticles at liquid interfaces, both from a fundamental point of view and with applications in mind.
New materials obtained from the self-assembly of micro- and nanoparticles (MPs and NPs) hold the potential to revolutionize a vast range of technological applications due to the extraordinary properties of their nano(micro) constituents. Compared to “classical uses” of liquid interfaces and colloidal particles (e.g. Pickering emulsions), I envisage using the interface between two fluid phases as the template for the self-assembly of (micro)nano-structured two-dimensional (2D) materials. This approach presents key advantages compared to direct assembly in bulk or at solid interfaces. MPs and NPs can be strongly trapped at liquid interfaces yielding thus automatically 2D assemblies upon interfacial adsorption. In spite of normal trapping, MPs and NPs are free to move laterally in-plane within the interface and thus interact with neighboring particles and fluids. Moreover, interactions specific to liquid interfaces exist and can be harnessed to direct the assembly of structures unattainable in bulk.
Despite the great developments in the synthesis of complex MPs and NPs, the quest for a general way to control the properties of the final material starting from the properties of the building blocks still faces outstanding open challenges, which are even greater at liquid interfaces. True progress is hindered by the lack of control and characterization of the basic NP properties and of the way they interact. I work to shed light on this missing link using a combination of novel experimental techniques and the use of well-characterized particle systems provided by experts in the field through an active network of collaborations.
Assemblies of colloidal particles confined at a fluid interface also act as invaluable models to directly investigate the structure, dynamics and response of complex systems at the single-particle level and in real time. Using “colloids as big atoms” has proven fundamental in shedding light on diverse phenomena such as the glass transition; the use of 2D systems further enables the possibility to easily apply external fields and monitor responses.
The combination of these three highly interconnected ideas, namely the characterization of the fundamental properties of MPs and NPs at liquid interfaces, their use as models to study complex materials under external fields and their use as building blocks for novel materials fabrication, constitutes the core vision of this research, with several specific examples detailed below - core vision of my research.