What is the Soft and Biological Matter Centre of Excellence at IITM?

The Center for Soft and Biological Matter at IIT Madras is an interdisciplinary initiative that researches evaporation of complex fluids by observation of micro and molecular scale processes through experiments as well as simulations. One of the key focus areas of the center is the viability of using evaporation to coat substances like nanoparticles, microspheres, polymers, proteins, and even DNA. Controlling patterns and structures formed by evaporation of drops and films attracts many industrial and biomedical applications.

A wide spectrum of scientific and engineering disciplines such as materials science, physics, chemical, mechanical and electrical engineering, pharmaceutical and biology are involved in the research. The specific problems addressed include the evaporation of colloidal dispersions, low-dimensional self assembly of soft colloids via evaporation, defect formation due to insatiable drying of non-spherical particles and evaporation of biological fluids for medical interventions.

Evaporation is a diffusive process where molecules transition from liquid to vapor state at a constant temperature. It is observed in a variety of contexts, the most common being an integral part of the water cycle and leading to formation of clouds while also indirectly impacting renewable energy sources such as wind and hydropower. Over the past decade, significant research has been undertaken in the assembly, microstructure and behavior of complex fluids and soft matter. The project aims to integrate the science of soft matter with the mechanics of defect formation due to evaporation.

Evaporation plays a vital role not only in natural phenomena but also in various industries. Many biomedically important processes involve the evaporation of drops or thin films containing dissolved solutes like salts, as well as non-volatile solutes such as colloids. Evaporation of drops with non-volatile substances has significant use in food technology, pharmaceuticals, personal care, agriculture as well as wearable devices. Through research in evaporation of biological fluids like blood, plasma and respiratory fluids, the program opens up avenues for novel methods of air-borne disease detection as well as gives a better understanding of their spread and control.

The work proposed in the center has wide-ranging implications for various industries, including healthcare, electronics and for the environmentally conscious. Research outcomes are expected to drastically reduce water losses through evaporation in tanks and reservoirs, through liquid-solid particle interfacing on water body surfaces. The study can potentially play important roles in agriculture, for minimization of pesticide use, as well as detergency, battery electrolyte chemistry as well as oil spill removal. These findings are sure to garner corporate interest, funding as well as incubation of novel startups.