Tiny and Squishy Science Comes Together Like Yin and Yang

May 20th, 2011
The harmony and balance of Nanotechnology with Soft Matter, like Yin and Yang, is the subject of the latest Special Issue of Small (Wiley-VCH) that has just been published. The Issue presents some of the best global research at the interface of these two important and growing areas.

Like Yin and Yang, soft matter and nanotechnology are inevitably and synergistically linked, and both scientific fields are becoming increasingly important all around us.

The cover of the Special Issue has been specially designed, and shows soft matter and nanotechnology in a Yin-Yang configuration. The shape of the Yin and Yang sections of the symbol gives a sense of the continual movement of and synergy between nanotechnology and soft matter, Yin to Yang and Yang to Yin, which underlies the exploration described in the Issue and the whole of this emerging field. Xiadong Chen (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore and one of the guest-editors), says “I really like the cover design. Yin-Yang is an old Chinese concept but we use it here to represent nanotechnology and soft matter. They are two different areas but they are interconnected and interdependent”.

The prestigious guest-editors from top research institutions are Xiaodong Chen, Harald Fuchs (University of Muenster, Germany), and Freddy Boey (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore). The Issue was inspired by a symposium at the International Conference on Materials for Advanced Technologies (ICMAT) that was also organised by the editors, and at which many of the contributors first came together. Boey believes producing the Issue now makes a statement about the field; “I see this issue as a landmark to show where we are at”, he says. Although the Issue is international, Boey is particularly proud of the contributions that his own country, Singapore, has made to both soft matter and nanotechnology, and the fact that the Issue has grown out of a conference organised in this country.

The editors hope that the issue will provide stimulating highlights of the design, fabrication, and exploitation of soft nanomaterials. They are sure that the Issue will be of interest for many people across all of materials science, chemistry, biology, and physics, which is why they decided to produce the Issue with the interdisciplinary nanotechnology journal Small.

Soft matter science is a multidisciplinary area of chemistry, physics, biology, and materials science. It deals with materials such as functional polymers, amphiphiles, liquid crystals, colloids, and some biological molecules, in which the typical energies of interaction are comparable to thermal energies. Such molecules therefore have interesting and complex properties that can be exploited to create new technologies.

Nanotechnology is the study and manipulation of matter on an atomic or molecular scale. Generally, nanotechnology deals with structures of between one to 100 nanometers in size, in at least one dimension. Scientists believe that nanotechnology may be able to create many new materials and devices with a vast range of applications, for example in electronics, medicine, and energy production. However, as with any new technology there are concerns, including those about the toxicity and environmental impact of nanomaterials.

The Issue contains five reviews, two concept articles, eight communications and eight full papers on topics as diverse as patterning polymer surfaces, detection using nanoparticles, triple-color patterns, materials to encourage stem cells to differentiate and new ways to arrange proteins in a cluster. The Issue encompasses five main themes: nanostructuring of soft materials, fabrication of complex and composite materials, tools to study soft nanomaterials, the nano-bio interface of soft nanotechnology, and applications of soft nanomaterials, all of which cross the borders of both soft matter and nanotechnology.

The Issue shows the state of the art in the crossover of soft matter and nanotechnology, and should point the direction for future research and funding. It is a recognition of the hard work of scientists across the globe as well as in Singapore. As the guest-editors say in their editorial: “We are still at the infant stages of learning how to design and control the soft nanoscale structures with specific properties.” Although much has been achieved, the Issue makes clear what the next steps should be.

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