Soft matter

Polymers – Gels- surfactants – Lubricants - Liquid crystals – Emulsions – Colloids - Cosmetics

The expression "soft matter" was first used by France's Nobel prize for physics Pierre-Gilles de Gennes to define “molecular systems giving a strong response to a very weak command signal”. The field is very broad involving polymers, proteins, colloids, lipids, liquid crystals and any systems easily deformed by small external fields, including thermal stresses and thermal fluctuations. The relevant energy scale, comparable with room temperature (~KBT), and the structures in the size range of nanometers to a few micrometers, make these systems ideally suited for neutron scattering studies.
Furthermore soft matter systems are rich in light elements and can be deuterated, improving the quality of information that neutrons can provide.
At the ILL the structure of soft matter is probed by large-scale structures instruments, like small-angle scattering machines, reflectometers, small-angle diffractometers, while their dynamics is studied by neutron scattering spectroscopy with motions probed from the fs time scale (eV) to ~100ns (neV), using inelastic scattering, backscattering, and spin-echo instruments.
Soft matter represents about 20-25% of the ILL output in terms of beam-time use and publications, and benefits from a vibrant scientific environment with the facilities available in the Soft Matter Science and Support group in the Science Building, which runs the Partnership for Soft Condensed Matter activities in collaboration with the ESRF.

Review of ILL research into complex everyday materials: Neutrons and Soft Matter (pdf file, 4.93 Mb)


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From drug delivery to the development of responsive materials, self-assembled supramolecular structures have many applications. Understanding their organisation and reaction to external parameters is key. In a new study, researchers explore the…

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Samuel Winnall and Wenke Müller are currently carrying out their PhDs as part of the InnovaXN programme. While Samuel specialises in reflectometry and molecular dynamics simulations, Wenke specialises in small-angle scattering, and is focused on…

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Scientists from Institut Laue Langevin (ILL) have helped take a key step towards understanding the development of life on Earth.

The team, led by Dr Philippe Oger, a scientist from the University of Lyon – INSA Lyon, used organic molecules known as…

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Neutrons help investigating the impact of alkanes, which could have allowed the first life to emerge around deep-sea hydrothermal vents.