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University of Pennsylvania to Launch Research Collaboration on Soft Condensed Matter

The University of Pennsylvania's Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter has entered into a multi-year agreement with specialty chemical producer Rhodia and the French National Center for Scientific Research to launch an international, public-private research collaboration in soft condensed matter.

The collaboration between academia, government and industry brings together a diverse team of world-class scientists with complementary expertise for understanding, manipulating and creating novel soft materials. The joint effort will focus on developing new, sustainable technologies in the field of soft condensed matter, a science at the interface of chemistry, biology, physics and nanotechnology.

Soft condensed matter research focuses on easily deformable materials whose physics are often dominated by entropy. Liquids, colloids, polymers, foams, surfactants, liquid crystals and gels are examples of soft materials.

Penn will benefit from an industrial platform on which to test new breakthroughs in material science, particularly at the nanoscale. It is called the COMPASS collaboration, for Complex Assemblies of Soft Matter. Penn will also gain access to the formulation expertise of a variety of visiting scientists.

"Our research collaborations have always benefited from a multi-disciplinary approach," Arjun Yodh, the James M. Skinner Professor of Science and director of the LRSM, said. "The COMPASS collaboration with Rhodia and CNRS will enable Penn to continue to build on that approach to take advantage of major research capabilities well beyond our traditional boundaries."

Initial projects will explore renewable and sustainable ingredients for consumer products in home and personal-care markets. Others projects will address broadly critical issues such as water scarcity for agriculture and novel printable electronic solutions for energy transfer and storage.

Exploratory research will create soft materials, such as fluids or gels, with unique properties based on various natural or synthetic ingredients. Researchers will focus on developing new materials with improved cost effectiveness and performance, novel functional attributes and sustainable technologies for application in a range of consumer products and industrial formulations, including body wash, shampoo, paints, lubricants, viscosifiers and printable electronics.

"This collaboration illustrates how world-class researchers, international outreach and industrial know-how can accelerate the pace of research and move basic science into the consumer and industrial world," Steven J. Fluharty, vice provost for research at Penn, said.

Research will be conducted in Penn's LRSM and Rhodia's Center for Research and Technology in Bristol, Pa. CNRS researchers will work at both locations. As many as 20 researchers will work in the collaboration.

"This agreement brings together some of the best research talent and facilities in the world," Paul-Joël Derian, Rhodia's vice president and worldwide director of research, said. "Together we are exploring practical research applications to improve the sustainability of everyday products. Equally important, we will concentrate on finding new solutions for critical challenges in agriculture and energy that affect the developing world as well as advanced societies."


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