Soft Materials

Soft Materials

Research in the Soft Matter group is focused primarily on experimental studies of dynamics, structure and morphology in soft materials, including polymers and polymer nanocomposites, glass-forming systems and ionic liquids, and biological macromolecules. We are developing fundamental understanding of physical and chemical phenomena in Soft Matter and applying this knowledge to design of novel materials and technologies for different applications from energy related to bio-medical fields. 


Mechanically Robust, Sodium-Ion Conducting Membranes for Nonaqueous Redox Flow Batteries

Sodium-based batteries are promising for grid-storage applications because of significantly lower cost compared to lithium-based systems. The advancement of solid-state and redox-flow sodium-ion...

Influence of the Bound Polymer Layer on Nanoparticle Diffusion in Polymer Melts

We measure the center-of-mass diffusion of silica nanoparticles (NPs) in entangled poly(2-vinylpyridine) (P2VP) melts using Rutherford backscattering spectrometry. While these NPs are well within the...

Big Effect of Small Nanoparticles: A Shift in Paradigm for Polymer Nanocomposites

Polymer nanocomposites (PNCs) are important materials that are widely used in many current technologies and potentially have broader applications in the future due to their excellent property...


Research in our group focuses on six major areas. Fundamentals of the Glass Transition and Polymer Dynamics, with the focus on the role of chemical structure and interactions, temperature and density in macroscopic properties of the materials. Structure and Properties in Multicomponent Polymeric Materials (Nanocomposites and Block Copolymers) where research focus on the interfacial layer, its structure, dynamics and the role in macroscopic properties.   Mechanism of Ion and Proton Conductivity in ionic liquids and polymers, with the focus on fundamentals of the ion and proton transport, and development of superionic polymers for Electrical Energy Storage application. Molecular Transport through Polymer Membranes for various chemical separation technologies, with the focus on gas purification and CO2 separation. Polymers for 3D-printing Technologies, with the focus on developing of polymers and processes that provide sufficient mechanical strength for 3D-printed products.  Lastly, research into Dynamics of Biological Macromolecules with the focus on fundamental understanding of the role of chemical structure and interactions in activity and stability of proteins.  As an experimental group, we work in tight collaboration with theory and computer simulations groups.  The majority of our funding is provided by the Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences.


Alexei P Sokolov

ORNL/UT Governor's Chair, Professor of Chemistry and Physics, Chemical Sciences Division