A microscopic bit of matter in solution is in continuous motion. Pummelled at random by the solvent, it engages in a Brownian walk that will eventually take it far away from where we first started to observe it. At the nanoscale, even gravity is too weak to influence the trajectory of the object. Placing surfaces in the vicinity of an object however puts new forces in play. By appropriately tailoring the geometry of the walls we are able to harness these intrinsic object-wall forces and manoeuvre an object into a desired spatial location and orientation in a fluid.
At my group at the Institute of Physical Chemistry we are interested in furthering our ability to control and manipulate matter at the nanoscale, developing recipes toward "force-free" control of objects that range from proteins and biological macromolecules like viruses and DNA, to inorganic entities displaying interesting photonic properties. To this end, we use micro- and nanofluidic systems as experimental platforms to explore a variety of interesting intermolecular interactions, and are also coming up with ways to use external forces like light, electrical and flow fields to manipulate the dynamics both of single-objects as well as ensembles. Beyond giving us fundamental insight into the way matter behaves and interacts, our findings could ultimately make their way into practical devices such as sensors, photonic components, possibly even memories and displays - all based on the precise manipulation and control of nanoscale building blocks.
The research areas we are involved in span soft condensed matter physics, applied physics and photonics, physical chemistry of charged interfaces, and single molecule biochemistry. At the level of experimental techniques, we rely on a combination of advanced nanofabrication, optical imaging and detection, chemistry and biochemistry. Projects in my group tend to be fairly interdiscplinary.