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 in the context of complex matter that results from self-assembly of various nano- or micro-sized building blocks.
In our group we study, mainly experimentally, a variety of natural and sustainable complex and composite matter, ranging from clays to cellulose and plant-based materials, including more generally systems from the whole soft and complex matter realm (colloids, surfactants, polymers). The research group is very active in investigating both fundamental, such as self-assembly of nano- or micro-sized building blocks or gas and fluid flow through nano-porous media, and the potential of meso- or nano-structured nature-based materials for applications, currently focusing on CO2 capture and gas separation, polymer composites, nanolayered composites with groundbreaking potential for sustainable electronics applications, structural colors arising from clay nanolayers embedded in fluid or solid matrices, and research on composite fluids/solids for food applications.
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.
Joint collaborations in uur group (currently 3 professors, 2 researchers, 1 adjunct professor that jointly supervise postdocs, PhD students and master students), are veryimportant for the group’sout productive and successful progress. The differences in background and research interests among the group PIs warrant interdisciplinary research, while at the same time ensuring close interests and efficient collaboration within the team. This makes our current group very robust. The group has a strong interdisciplinary profile of high international standing, and consequently also ranks very highly in the national research landscape. The group publishes very original contributions to the field, some of which find their way into very high impact journals and are quite well-received by the scientific community in terms of overall citations. The group has several very good established long-term stable international complementary and interdisciplinary collaborations, including extensive exchanges and mobility, with leading research groups around the world (Nordic countries, EU, Latin-America, Asia, USA and others), including with groups that work experimentally, with simulations, or theory. The group serves Norway’s interests by educating highly qualified PhD students, who often continue their careers in prestigious institutions. Over the past 10 years, the group has coordinated several projects with a total value of more than 10 MEUR in external funding, that in addition has released significant NTNU central funding. Many of the ongoing researcher projects in the group have a foundational character and therefore contribute to overall economic development. The group makes ample and fruitful use of existing home resources (the Soft and Complex Matter Lab at NTNU, coupled to use of national infrastructure such as NTNU Nanolab), as well as extensive use of international large-scale synchrotron and neutron facilities, in addition to labs of international collaborators. The equipment and method infrastructure located in the Soft and Complex Matter Lab at IFY has purposely been “collected” and put together in order to tackle timely basic physical science problems, hand in hand with applied research, from the nanoscale via the mesoscale to the macroscale. Thus, not only is the group’s research profile unique nationally and internationally, but also the way infrastructure is coherently organized, used and operated by this group is quite unique. The group contributes to produce innovation through patents as well as by projects involving national and international companies and applied research labs, and we have altogether approx. 80 patent applications granted or pending in Europe, USA etc. The group is involved in many research projects with industry – not only in Norway but also inside and outside Europe (Nordic countries, EU, Latin-America and others). In fact, two of the PIs have been employed in industry 100% in periods. The group also promotes secondments of young group members to industrial partners as well as, vice versa, hosting staff from industrial and academic partners as visitors in the group. All this contributes to the societal relevance and value of the group.s’ present and future activities. The group is important in relation to NTNU’s strategies, because of its high-quality interdisciplinary research and its important international network. The group’s work on sustainable materials and science sustainability is a key strength. Our interdisciplinary group working on the borderline between fundamental applied physics, fits very good within the present and expected future local and gobal strategies by focusing on issues with societal relevance that are important for the green transition, health and economy, through research on sustainable composite matter based on low-cost, abundant, energy efficient natural materials, and therefore also the societal impact dimension of the group was highly rated in the recent evaliatuon of natural sciences in Norway (EVALNAT). From soft to complex matter, from nano to macro, in the context of the Soft and Complex Matter Lab activties most often mean using soft matter based “processing”, towards fabrication of complex matter, including composite functional materials and their potential applications. Thus, although soft matter science is an essential ingredient in this process, it is merely a smaller part than the whole picture.
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

Complex Matter, Soft matter, Nature-inspired materials, Nano-technology, 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

Person 4

Maria Helena Godinho

Onsager Professor at NTNU 2023-24, visiting from New University of Lisbon, Portugal


We coordinate one EU Horizon 2020 MSCA International PhD Training Network


Pickfood - Pickering emulsions for food applications

Recent happenings


Professor Paul Dommersnes, from the Soft and Complex Matter Lab published an article in Science Advances.

The article entitled Topology-guided polar ordering of collective cell migration, Emma Lång, Anna Lång, Pernille Blicher, Torbjørn Rognes, Paul Gunnar Dommersnes, Stig Ove Bøe, Science Advances, Vol 10, Issue 16 (DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.adk4825) is a result of a collaboration between Prof. Dommersnes and researchers located at Oslo University Hospital in Norway.

Many congratulations to Professor PhD Maria Helena Godinho from New University of Lisbon, Portugal, who has been Elected member of The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters (DNVA). In 2023 Professor Godinho was awarded the Lars Onsager Professorship at NTNU, and therefore during 2023-24 she spent 6 months in our Soft and Complex Matter Lab to develop scientific work and deliver seminars.

In the period 15 February - 15 March 2024 Professor Patrick Tabeling, from ESPCI and Sorbonne University in Paris, France visits the Soft and Complex Matter Lab.

As a part of his visit Prof. Tabeling gives a NTNU Friday Physics Colloquim on March 8 2024, entitled Microfluidic stories

Professor Tabeling is among all his achievements known for research, innovation and education activities in the the area of microfluidics, see the new version of his much used book: Introduction to Microfluidics.
Professor Tabeling works with us on collaborative projects, being a frequent visitor to the Soft and Complex Matter Lab, last also spending 1 month in January-February 2023 with us.

In the period 2-9 February 2024 Professor Peter Palffy-Muhoray, from Kent State University, USA visited the Soft and Complex Matter Lab.

As a part of his visit Prof. Palffy-Muhoray gave a NTNU-NanoLab GuestLecture on February 6 2024, entitled: Mean field theory for dense systems of hard rod- and plate-like particles

On January 17, 2024, Professor Jon Otto Fossum gave an invited lecture at the Max IV Lab User Meeting 2024 in Lund, Sweden.
See also: Follow-up interview with Prof. Fossum, about quick clays, avalanches and potential effects of climate change.

On December 5, 2023, Professor Jon Otto Fossum gave an invited lecture at Harvard University, on the topic Clay minerals as 2D natural nanomaterials for sustainable applications . The very good discussions with, and feedback from, students, researchers and staff at Harvard, and others, are very much appreciated. This marked the end of a very active year on the international lecturing front by Prof. Fossum, with talks on related topics: Invited Friday Physics Colloquium, NTNU, Trondheim, Norway, November 17, 2023; Invited Chemsitry Seminar, Universidade Federal de Pernambuco - UFPE, Recife, Brazil, November 13, 2023; ILLUM – escola de ciência, Campinas, Brazil, November 1, 2023; UNICAMP, Campinas, Brazil, October 26, 2023; CENIMAT,Universidade NOVA de Lisboa, Portugal, October 17, 2023; NTNU NanoLecture, Trondheim, Norway, September 12, 2023; Graphene Week, Gothenburg, Sweden, September 4-8, 2023; Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology ( NM-AIST), Arusha, Tanzania, July 20, 2023; DINAMO 2023 in Svolvær, Lofoten Islands, Norway, June 11 – 16, 2023; SICT/PLASMA TECH/TRIBOLOGY 2023 JOINT CONFERENCES - Lisbon, Portugal, 26-28 April, 2023


On October 26-27, 2023, we organized a very successful Workshop on Mesostructures and Microfluidics , taking place at University of Campinas - UNICAMP , Campinas - SP, Brazil. The picture shows the organizers, invited lecturers and some of the poster presenters.

The 9th Annual International Workshop on Soft and Complex Matter was held in the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters Sept. 15-16, 2023.

September 12, 2023, Jon Otto Fossum, and Barbara Pacakova were invited to give joint lectures in the Nanolecture Series at NTNU Jon Otto's lecture given in sunglasses for the occasion: Intro to Soft and Complex Matter Lab, NTNU: Natural nanomaterials for sustainable applications. Barbara's lecture: Polluting dyes, nanoparticles and clay minerals targeting sustainable batteries and nanoelectronics. About 30 participants from the NTNU Nano community attended the event.

Our visiting Onsager Professor Maria Helena Godinho, from NOVA University of Lisbon, Portugal, presented her Onsager lecture at NTNU on August 24th, 2023. The lecture, entitled "Self-organized cellulose-based liquid crystalline systems: a world of possibilities", covered the wondrous world of cellulose. In the picture above (Photo Per Henning/NTNU), we see Øyvind Gregersen, Dean at the Faculty of Natural Sciences, awarding Professor Godinho with the Onsager medal.

August 21-22, 2023, Jon Otto Fossum visited

Elkem in Kristiansand, Norway and gave an extensive presentation about applications of clay minerals for the R&D scientists in the Materials-Innovation group of Elkem Silicon Products. We also discussed the challenge of the industry and potential projects for open innovation.

The Soft and Complex Matter Lab received two visiting scientists during August 2023:

Research scientist Leide Cavalvcanti from ISIS neutron and muon source, UK (left who spends 1 month in our group like in 2021 and 2022), and Professor Jaakko Timonen from Aalto University, Finland (right).

On July 20, 2023, we organized a a topical seminar on "Materials Science of Natural Materials; How nano-scale structures determine human-scale applications". taking place at the Nelson Mandela African Institution for Science and Technology, in Arusha, Tanzania.
In the picture above you see from left to right, Prof. J.O Fossum (NTNU), PhD candidate Namrah Azmi (NTNU), and Prof. A. Hilonga (NM-AIST) in front of the main buliding of NM-AIST. Near 30 researchers and PhD candidates from NM-AIST attended the event.

This year, the Materials Research Society (MRS) celebrates its 50th anniversary! Throughout the year, the editors of MRS Bulletin will highlight unique articles that reflect MRS milestones.
Our Impact article

Large bandgap insulating superior clay nanosheets

Barbara Pacakova, Per Erik Vullum, Alexsandro Kirch, Josef Breu, Caetano Rodrigues Miranda & Jon Otto Fossum
MRS Bulletin 47, December 2022. DOI: 10.1557/s43577-022-00349-8 has been brought forward as an MRS milestone. In this article we demonstrate simple self-assembly of heterostructures such as graphene-clay-graphene, which could form the next generation of nanodevices.

On May 5, 2023 the Soft and Complex Matter Lab had a visit from Elkem Materials Innovation - Silicon Products, in order to discuss and establish a base for possible future colloaboration and projects: From Left to right in the picture above: Jon Otto Fossum, Odd Skogerbø (Director - Elkem Materials Innovation), Mohamed Al-Bagoury (Research Scientist - Elkem Materials Innovation), Paulo H. M.-Brito, Leander Michels

The Geilo School 2023: The Physics of Evolving Matter: Connectivity, Communication and Growth, March 13-23, 2023 at Bardøla Høyfjellshotel, Geilo, Norway.

The Soft and Complex Matter Lab organized the very successful Soft Matter Days 2023, at NTNU in Trondheim, January 17-20, 2023.

The Soft and Complex Matter Lab organized a very successful 19th Nordic Workshop on Scattering from Soft Matter (NSSM-2023), at NTNU in Trondheim, January 17-18, 2023.

The Soft and Complex Matter Lab had a strong presence at the MRS Fall Meeting in Boston, November 27 - December 2, 2022:
Four posters from the Lab were presented, they all received considerable interest, and one of them (displayed in the picture above) received one of the prestigious poster awards at the meeting: Bulk Self-Assembly of Hybrid GO-clay Nanosheets, Authors: Paulo H. Michels Brito, Martin Bygdas, Barbara Pacakova, Andrew N. Akanno, Veslemeløy Osmundsen, Josef Breu and Jon Otto Fossum.

NTNU DISCOVERY has awareded 5.75 million NOK to the smartest inventors at NTNU. Our Soft and Complex Matter Lab project "Claycolor" receives 1 million NOK.

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).

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, Noviga).

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 mid 2026; it employs 1 PhD candidate (Yue Yu started August 2021, on contract until mid-2025) and 1 postdoctoral researcher.
Project partners are located at: Univ. Bayreuth Germany, ESPCI-ParisTech France, Chalmers Univ. Sweden, ISIS-UK, Univ. de Sao Paulo (USP) Brazil.
This new project connected to and added activites to two other projects granted by the Research 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

The Material Research Society (MRS) highlighted one of our papers as one of their most important milestones during the past fifty years. Our Impact paper was chosen alongside the works of Kavli prize winner Mildred Dresselhaus and the Nobel laureate Richard E. Smalley. Our paper brings into the focus 2D layers of synthetic clay, showing that it is so far the best 2D insulator in the world, with an electronic band gap larger than that of the famous and widely used hexagonal boron-nitride. Thus using this clay material opens up for large scale fabrication of small electronic components and will find use integrated with the other 2D materials to create novel electronic devices such as ultra-thin transistors, sensors, flexible electronics or quantum gates, that are the essential components of quantum computers. see MRS Bulletin 47, December 2022. DOI: 10.1557/s43577-022-00349-8 (2022)

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.