Our scientific interests encompass different branches
of soft condensed matter and optical physics, including novel laser
trapping and imaging techniques, molecular and colloidal self-assembly,
fundamental properties of liquid crystals, polymers, nano-structured
and other functional materials, as well as their photonic and electro-optic
applications. The emerging scientific frontiers in these fields show
an exceptional promise of significant new discovery and of new
applications that become possible only now, after the recent
breakthroughs in condensed matter physics, optics, nanoscience, and biology.
Liquid crystals, nano-structured, biomolecular, and other soft materials
are attractive not only because of the richness of observed physics phenomena
but also because of the wealth of potential technological applications and
because of their significance for the fields of biology, biotechnology, and
medicine. These materials combine properties of crystalline solids and ordinary
liquids in unexpected ways, often possessing fluidity along with orientational
order and varying degrees of positional order.
The constituent molecules
(or particles and other building blocks) of soft matter interact via many different types
of interactions, ranging from van der Waals interactions, to screened
electrostatic and steric interactions, and to specific chemical binding.
However, the interactions are usually weak and comparable in strength to
thermal fluctuations. Therefore, these relatively fragile forms of matter
easily respond to mechanical stresses, electric and magnetic fields,
temperature variations, presence of ions, optical fields of focused laser
beams, etc. Often pocessing birefringence, optical activity, and self-organized structures with periodicity in the nanometer and micrometer ranges, these
materials can be used to deflect laser beams in telecommunications and to
visualize information in displays.
At the same time, light (in a form of
focused laser beams) can be used to control these materials by shaping patterns
of molecular orientations, optical trapping of colloidal particles and defects,
manipulation of bacteria and single moleculaes.
Even though scientists and engineers have learned how to use some of
the unique properties of soft materials only recently, their properties
have always been of pivoit importance in nature. For example, the
potential for technological applications of photonic crystals has been
broadly recognized less than two decades ago. At the same time, photonic
structures are ubiquitous in nature and have been developed, for example,
in butterflies and beetles during their evolution. Clearly, these materials
have enormous potential but require thorough understanding of underpinning
physics phenomena. We are interested to study the ordered states of soft
materials and biological systems from the fundamental science standpoint as
well as for applications ranging from novel technologies to treatment of
diseases. These scientific interests also stem from the need to decipher
the physical mechanisms behind molecular self-organization and interactions
between nanoparticles, biological molecules, and living cells. Our research
may impinge on understanding of important biological processes and will be
pursued in parallel with development of novel devices and technologies based
on nano-structured soft and biomolecular materials.