University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Keck Foundation awards $1M to study the dynamics of newly discovered solid surfactant films

Physicists Narayanan Menon, Benny Davidovitch and Christopher Santangelo, with polymer scientist Thomas Russell, recently won a three-year, $1 million Keck Foundation grant to develop the basic science needed to spontaneously deliver ultrathin films to fluid interfacesThe W.M. Keck Science and Engineering program funds “endeavors that are distinctive and novel in their approach. It encourages projects that are high-risk with the potential for transformative impact.”

As Menon explains, he and his collaborators will build upon their previous successes to tackle a handful of new problems, each more difficult than the last. The researchers are particularly interested in creating films that start out crumpled but can instantly expand to create a super thin barrier between two materials when deployed. For example, “imagine throwing a crumpled ball at a wall and when it hits, the ball instantly unfurls and paints the wall with a barrier sheet 10,000 times thinner than paper,” Menon says. “We have preliminary experiments that indicate the feasibility of this approach, but we need many further experiments and theoretical work to understand and control how such a film spontaneously and explosively unfurls when it is placed between two liquids.”

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