Maria Santore Research Group


The projects in our labs share a common goal: To design “intelligent” materials with tunable dynamic responses by manipulating the interplay between weak (reversible) colloidal-range forces and the often cooperative dynamics of polymeric chains.

While it may come as a surprise that weak colloidal-range forces, contributing only a few kT per each reversible physical bond, can be important in materials development, it turns out that they dominate many familiar systems. One prominent example is living tissue, which is comprised of a hierarchy of intra-molecularly associated and inter-molecularly bound molecules, generating structure at different lengthscales, and responses at different timescales.

Besides their importance in biology (they are responsible for protein folding, they orchestrate the precise recognition between receptors and their ligands), reversible bonds play important technological roles: Competing colloidal forces (Van der Waals, electrostatics, hydrophobic interactions, hydrogen bonding) control copolymer and surfactant self assembly into micellar and lamellar phases; they drive polymer adsorption, they promote colloidal stability or flocculation; they facilitate lubrication and regulate some classes of adhesion; and they dominate the rheological properties of complex fluids. Colloidal-range potentials often present maxima which contribute activation energies to kinetic processes. When combined with the topological constraints and cooperativity inherent to polymers, the tuning of colloidal potentials weaves an intricate fabric of dynamic possibilities for materials design and processing.

While one research thrust within the Santore group is the development of certain classes of biomimetic materials, our broader philosophy is that many dynamically interesting and useful materials, beyond those with obvious bio-interface or medical applications, can be designed based on an understanding of colloidal and biomolecular interactions. These materials include some with obvious structures and others, though less organized, that exhibit tunable dynamic response. Part of the research in our group aims to develop a fundamental understanding of dynamic behaviors, while other programs more directly target the development of new materials. Students in the Santore lab gain an appreciation for the full spectrum from fundamental polymer and colloidal physics to material design.

Current Research

Research in the Santore group focuses on polymer, colloid, nanoparticle, and cell behavior at interfaces, with experimental projects targeting a range of applications and technologies, from the extremely fundamental to the highly applied.  Some projects target an understanding of recently-discovered mechanisms for interfacial function while others target the development of materials for specific application sectors.

Specific research areas include:

Tension and curvature-controlled crystalline morphologies
Surface assembly at dynamic 2D contoured interfaces
Understanding and controlling bacterial-surface contact/response
Polymer-Induced Interactions in Complex Fluids
Particles in flow