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27 February 2018

Vici grant for 'soft contact' research

Sticky gels and other soft materials behave like fluids when ‘landing’ on a surface. This is really surprising, and it opens the way for a smart combination of solid state mechanics and fluid mechanics. Professor Jacco Snoeijer of the University of Twente received a ‘Vici’ grant for this, from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research NWO.

‘Soft contact’ is the title of Jacco Snoeijer’s research proposal: how does a soft but solid material behave at the contact surface with other materials? “This interface is very complex. At the University of Twente, we did a lot of work on what is happening when fluid droplets hit a solid surface. We also showed that soft materials like gels, behave in the same way”, Snoeijer says. This brings together various physics disciplines that used to be separate worlds. The challenge for Snoeijer is the development of one theory for solid, fluid and soft matter. And not just a theory, he explains: combining the disciplines also means combining experimental techniques: “Within the MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology, we can use the full potential of high speed cameras, digital holography and microscopy techniques like AFM.”

Model materials

The contact properties play a major role when layers of several materials are printed on top of each other. Some of them still are fluids, others solidify before touching the surface. This clearly is not just about the contact with the first layer, like ink on paper, but about every following layer in all possible combinations of solid, soft and fluid. This is also the case for hydrogels: these can function as good ‘model materials’ for living tissue. Another example of what Snoeijer wants to know more about, is how nanoparticles attach to a polymer material, for creating new materials with excellent thermal isolation properties.

For this research project, Snoeijer now received a so-called ‘Vici’ grant of 1.5 million euros, for a period of five years. This is a grant for excellent and very experienced researchers, within the ‘veni-vidi-vici’ programme. It enables him to hire three PhD students and a post-doc researcher. The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research NWO received 233 proposals, of which 35 were selected in this round.

The ‘soft matter’ project is an excellent example of UT’s research theme ‘Shaping our world with smart materials’: creating materials with fully new properties, using smart combinations.   

Jacco Snoeijer wil give his inaugural lecture as a Professor of Capillary Flows and Elasticity at the University of Twente on 19 April 2018.