Short introduction to the Lab

The Soft and Complex Matter Lab is located at NTNU's Department of Physics and Faculty of Natural Science. 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 complex matter typically in the form of composite soft matter.
A main experimental model system for the laboratory is clay, which are nano-layered silicate patchy particles, which 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. 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 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 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

Person 1

Jon Otto Fossum

Professor PhD

Person 3

Kenneth Dahl Knudsen

Adjunct Professor PhD

Senior Scientist at IFE

Person 4

Steinar Raaen

Professor PhD


Some highlight examples from our publications

Example of control of light by clay structures: Schematic of the nanostructure of an isotropic laponite glass; (left) and of a Laponite glass with evaporation-induced orientational order (middle). The right hand experimental image shows developing dynamic birefringence in the evaporating laponite glass. From: Hansen, E.L. et al., Soft Matter, 9, 99994 (2013).

Small molecules, for example CO2 can be stored in between clay layers by intercalation. Scetch taken from: Michels, L. et al., Scientific Reports 5, 8775 (2015); See also Cavalcanti L., Scientific Reports 8, 11827 (2018) and K.W.B. Hunvik,, J. Phys. Chem. C 124, 26222 (2020).

Figure 2 description.

A silicone oil drop with an electrohydrodynamically induced ribbon of clay particles. In addition, the applied DC E-field polarizes the clay particles forming electrorheological chains via dipole-dipole interactions. Experimental image taken from: Dommersnes, P. et al., Nature Communications 4, 2066 (2013).

Crystalline swelling (intercalation) occurs when external molecules, such as H2O enter the interlayer space within a clay particle. High temperatures facilitate the intercalation and the distance between clay layers increase during osmotic swelling. Sketch taken from: Hansen, E. L. et al., Scientific Reports 2, 618 (2012); See also P. Michels Brito Langmuir 37, 160 (2021).