We are interested in areas of problems that encompass materials science, chemistry, physics, and life. We select a problem if: i) we are interested in it, ii) we believe it is important, iii) we believe we have a "practical and/or radical" idea on how to solve it, and iv) we believe we can learn something by solving it.
The areas of problems that we are currently most interested in are:
Equilibrium is a useful approximation for the description of systems. Nonetheless, all change occurs outside of equilibrium. We know remarkably little about how to describe a system far from equilibrium.
Our strategy on this area is that, from an experimental perspective, it could be useful to construct well-defined and far-from-equilibrium experimental systems that can be used for invention, discovery, and hypothesis-driven research. Our future work on plasmas points in this direction.
Chemical Communication in Life
To an extent, living organisms can be thought of as systems that (i) collect, process, and communicate information, (ii) collect energy from their environment to persist, and (iii) replicate themselves with a finite probability of mutation.
Increasing evidence suggest that forms of chemical communication are present not only *within* all living systems, but also among them. Our future work on plants points in this direction
Chemical Function at the Nanoscale
Our society performs some its most complex functions by using flows of electrons. We use electrons because we know how to control them quite well thanks to our knowledge of electromagnetism, solid state physics and chemistry. Nonetheless, the most complex devices we know of - i.e., living organisms - handle their complex functions by using typically large (i.e., nanoscale) molecules. They use these macromolecules to perform "complex" functions such as encoding, decoding, and transmitting information, collecting energy, as well as responding to changes in the environment. A common assumption is that these complex functions can be described as "softwares" composed of a finite number of distinct but interconnected chemical reactions or interactions that constitute the individual "subroutines". Another assumption is that the operation of the entire "software" is possible because its components (the molecules) are either perfect or can be corrected. We hypothesize that our inability to design similar but different "softwares" based on chemistry is due to our limited access to perfect and arbitrary nanoscale constructs (most synthetic nanostructures and macromolecules have a distribution of sizes and properties).
Our future work in nanochemistry and self-assembly will point in this direction.
Metals are arguably one of the most useful classes of materials mankind has developed. They are typically produced as polycrystals, composed of grains affected by a distribution of sizes, shapes, and orientations. The effect of grain structure on the mechanical properties of metals is, therefore, one of the long standing challenges in materials science.
Our efforts in plasma processing of nanostructures will point in this direction.
Most scientific problems involving structure have been at some point or another been reduced to a periodic approximant (periodic boundary approximation) or to no structure at all (dilute system approximation). This is extraordinarily convenient and exceptionally accurate for crystals, which thankfully are ordered crystals that are translationally periodic, and to solutions, which can often be considered as dilute
Nonetheless, it is becoming increasingly clear that a lot of interesting opportunities lie in materials that lie beyond these approximations. Two examples come to mind: (1) quasicrystals have an aperiodic structure that leads to quite counterintuitive properties; (2) living systems are based on highly crowded liquid solutions in which diffusion is fundamentally altered.
Our efforts in arc dynamics, and plasma processing of nanostructures, will point in this direction
Approaching broad areas of interest requires focus. From the generic area of problems, we focus our attention on well-defined programs. These programs are the environment in which we formulate hypotheses which are the foundation of our experimental work. We have selected a range of potential research programs that offer well defined margins, motivations, and rationales.
Creating materials solutions to enable a better understanding of seed germination, plant development, and soil erosion.
Exploring alternative uses of plasmas in chemistry and materials science
Using nanomaterials to create metals and nanocomposites that have a deterministic microstructure