In our group we study artificial and biological soft active matter using a combination of techniques from microscopy, photonics, statistical physics and nanofabrication. We are interested in the fundamental behaviours that emerge in active matter systems as well as their applications to address some societal challenges in healthcare and material sciences. We are also part of the UCL Soft Materials and Antimicrobial Resistance Networks. Some of our current main research questions are detailed below.
Active Particles in Realistic Environments
Active particles are able to propel themselves by taking up energy from their environment and converting it into directed motion; their behaviour can hence only be explained within the framework of far-from-equilibrium physics. Inspired by several active microscopic biological cells and microorganisms, artificial active particles hold tremendous potential as autonomous agents to localize, pick up, and deliver nanoscopic objects in many applications, including bioremediation, catalysis, chemical sensing, drug-delivery, and gene therapy. The challenge is now to understand their motion in environments with the complexity of real-life scenarios.
Bacterial Motility and Social Behaviours
The regulation of social behaviours in bacteria is key to several phenomena of medical relevance, including biofilm formation and the expression of virulence in pathogens. Specifically, quorum sensing is the chemical communication process bacteria use to coordinate changes in their collective behaviour in response to population density. A current challenge in the field is to understand how quorum-sensing works in scenarios that mimic real host environments. We are currently tackling this open challenge using a novel combination of methods from microfabrication, advanced microscopy and molecular biology.
Control of Evaporating Droplets
The coffee-ring effect, i.e. the formation of a ring-like stain by an evaporating droplet containing a suspension of colloidal particles, is a phenomenon that has drawn significant scientific and industrial attention over the last decades. In fact, how particulate material deposits in evaporating droplets is not only a question of scientific curiosity for 21st Century Physics, but it also bears practical industrial relevance, as it plays a major role in phenomena as diverse as printing, coating, thin-film deposition, self-assembly of nanostructures and formation of biofilms. We are currently exploring novel strategies to control the coffee-ring effect in real life settings.