Short introduction to the Lab

The Soft and Complex Matter Lab is currently located at NTNU's Department of Physics and Faculty of Natural Sciences.
Soft matter is typically composed of nano-/meso-structures, which are easily deformable when exposed to weak external fields, such as flow fields (microfluidics), mechanical forces, electric or magnetic fields, or by thermal agitations.
We study soft matter which is most often complex matter that results from self-assembly of nano- or micro-sized building blocks.
A main experimental model system studied in the lab is clay, which are nano-layered silicate patchy particles, that can form soft and complex structures through spontaneous self-assembly of its particles. Other materials that we use as model systems for soft and complex matter are various types of colloidal particles, cellulose, zeolites, surfactants, polymers.
We are also particularly interested in natural and nature-inspired materials science, including geo-inspired materials and bio-mimetic phenomena.
We try to reduce complexity to simplicity as much as possible without loosing the essence.

Complexity means "reduction and removal of redundancy", as first defined by John Locke (1632-1704): "Ideas thus made up of several simple ones put together, I call complex; such as beauty, gratitude, a man, an army, the universe". This is illustrated in art by Picasso in his famous bull drawing from 1945, shown above.

A drawing called "Various animals attempting to follow a scaling law" by Pierre-Gilles de Gennes (Nobel prize in physics 1991) in his book "Scaling Concepts in Polymer Physics", Cornell University Press 1979.


Developing new understanding of basic physical properties and processes in soft and complex matter from the nano-scale to the human and geological scales. We wish to sort out what is universal, from what is specific.
Work on universal problems of practical relevance to fields of actual importance to society, ranging from nanotechnology to environmental or energy rleated topics. Examples of possible applications emerging from our research, for future technologies include: Molecular, including CO2, capture and retention by natural and nature-inspired materials, soft matter based electronics, complex photonic materials, soft scaffolds for bioengineering, new composite cementious eco-materials.

Scientific keywords

Soft matter, Nature-inspired materials, Nano-technology, Complex matter, Pattern formation, Anomalous diffusion, Spontaneous and guided selfassembly, Smart materials, Nano-structured materials, Nano-particles, Nano-clays, Composite materials, Photonic structures, Hydrodynamics and Rheology, Microfluidics, Nanofluidics.

Key People & Teaching

Person 1

Jon Otto Fossum

Professor PhD

Person 3

Kenneth Dahl Knudsen

Adjunct Professor PhD

Senior Scientist at IFE

Person 11

Matti Knaapila

Researcher/Adjunct Professor PhD

Person 4

Steinar Raaen

Professor PhD


We coordinate one EU Horizon 2020 MSCA International PhD Training Network


Pickfood - Pickering emulsions for food applications

Recent happenings


Etien Martinez Roman sucessfully defended his PhD thesis on May 24, 2022. Thesis tile: "Complex flows in active and driven granular matter: A study of turbulent and intermittent dynamics". Trial lecture: "Characterisation of rheological properties of suspensions". Main PhD supervisor: Prof. P. Dommersnes. Co-Sopervisor: Prof. J.O. Fossum,
Opponents were Prof. PhD Andreas Carlson from Department of Mathematics, University of Oslo, and Prof. PhD Margarita Staykova from Department of Physics, Durham University, UK. Coordinator of the committee was Prof. PhD Ingve Simonsen from Department of Physics, NTNU

The Geilo School 2022: The Physics of Evolving Matter: Memory, Learning and Evolution, March 21-31, 2022 at Bardøla Høyfjellshotel, Geilo, Norway.

Our recent article in Science Advances made it to the news.
See article in Norwegian SciTech News, - Published Feb 3, 2022 (Foto: Shutterstock). See also physicsworld: optics and photonics - Published Feb 20, 2022, EurekAlert! and AlphaGalileo - Published Feb 3, 2022.

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2021 went to three individuals who found that the world isn’t always as chaotic as we think. See article about Complexity Science in Norwegian SciTech News, - Published Dec 9, 2021 (Foto: Bournemouth News Pic Service/REX, Shutterstock, NTB).

There is an innovation drive in the Soft and Complex Matter Lab: CO2 capture with clay, - Published Sep 14, 2021.

The 7th Annual International Workshop on Soft and Complex Matter was held in the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters Nov. 12-13, 2021.

Paulo H. Michels Brito sucessfully defended his PhD thesis on October 19, 2021. Thesis tile: "Self-assembly from Functionalized Clay Nanolayers: Nematics and Hybrid Structures". Trial lecture: "Animate materials". Main PhD supervisor: Prof. J.O. Fossum.
Opponents were Prof. PhD Petra Rudolf from Surfaces and thin films group, University of Groningen, Netherlands, and Researcher PhD Barbara Ruzicka from Institute for Complex Systems, University of Rome Sapienza, Italy. Coordinator of the committee was Prof. PhD Carlos A. Doroao from Department of Energy and Process Engineering, NTNU

The TRAIL project “Monitoring lifetime of thermoplastic composites by combining analytics and machine learning” is financed by the Dutch Polymer Institute (DPI).
Project title "Monitoring lifetime of thermoplastic composites by combining analytics and machine learning". Project coordinator is Rechearcher M. Knaapila NTNU.
The project started in January 2022 and will end in January 2025. One PhD student is assigned to our research group: Alexander Harold Sexton started in January, 2022.
Project partners include selected company partners from the Dutch Polymer Institute and the University of Oslo.

December 2021 marked the official startup of a new project granted from the European Commission. Project title: "Pickfood - Pickering emulsions for food applications". Project coordinator is Rechearcher M. Knaapila NTNU.
The project, which is granted until end of 2025, is a Horizon 2020 MSCA ETN project. It includes 15 PhD candidates employed worldwide, and 5 of these will receive their PhD from NTNU.
Network directly or indirectly funded by the project:
Norway (NTNU, IFE, Giamag Technologies); - Sweden (Univ. Uppsala, Chalmers Univ.); - Denmark (Univ. Copenhagen, Technical Univ. Denmark (DTU), Danish Veterinary and Food Administration); - Finland (Aalto Univ.); - Netherlands (Univ. Amsterdam, Univ. Wageningen, Unilever-Wageningen, Bether Encapsulates BV); - Switzerland (ETH-Zurich); - Spain (Bioinicia, IATA); - France (National Institute for Agricultural and Environmental Research (INRAE), Inst. Curie Paris); - UK (Univ. Birmingham); - USA (North Carolina State Univ., Penn State Univ.); - Brazil (Unicamp Campinas, Nestle-Brazil); - Tanzania (Stayfit Nutrisupplies Dar es Salaam).

August 2021 marked the official startup of a new project granted from the Research Council of Norway. Project title: "Clay nanolayers for encapsulations of drops and nanopartivles". Project leader is Prof. J.O. Fossum NTNU.
The project is granted until end of 2025; it employs 1 PhD candidate (Yue Yu started August 2021) and 1 postdoctoral researcher (Paulo H. Michels Brito started October 2021).
Project partners are located at: Univ. Oslo Norway, Univ. Bayreuth Germany, ESPCI-ParisTech France, Chalmers Univ. Sweden, ISIS-UK, Univ. de Sao Paulo (USP) Brazil.
This project connects to and adds activites to two earlier and still ongoing projects granted by the Reseaerch Council of Norway, with the same project leader, including some of the same and some other international partners.

The KAPPA Program project “Nano-remediation of contaminated soils: Technology implementation with respect to ecotoxicological aspects” is financed by a Czech-Norway collaboration (Norway Grants). Project leader at NTNU is Prof. S. Raaen.
The main project started in January 2021 and will end in April 2024. One researcher position is assigned to our research group. Dr. Xiaofeng Yu started in September 2021.
Project partners include Czech University of Life Sciences, Prague; Charles University, Prague; NTNU, Trondheim; and Norwegian Institute of Water Research (NIVA), Oslo. Project coordinator is Professor Michael Komárek at Czech University of Life Sciences.

Some highlight examples from our publications

Clay swelling (by intercalation), and clay nanolayer delamination, occurs when external molecules, such as H2O, enter the interlayer space within a clay particle. Inreased humidity, immersion in liquid water or increased temperature facilitate the swelling and delamination, thus producing nematic phases. Such nematic jamming effects on the nanoscale can on the macroscale "counterintuitively" lead to increased mechanical strength and increased viscosity. when the temperature is increased in such a system. Sketch taken from: Scientific Reports 2, 618 (2012); See also Soft Matter, 9, 99994 (2013), Applied Clay Science 198, 105831 (2020) and Langmuir 37, 160 (2021) and other publications from our lab.

Figure 2 description.

A silicone oil drop with an electrohydrodynamically induced ribbon of particles. Further, the applied DC E-field can polarize certain particles forming dipolar chains confined to a drop interface. We have also studied the electrohydrodynnamics of droplet coalsecence for production of Janus capsules. Experimental image taken from: Nature Communications 4, 2066 (2013). See also Nature Communications 5, 3945 (2014) and other publications from our lab.