Professor Mark Matsen is set to receive the Polymer Physics Group Founders’ Prize. Only 11 scholars have been awarded this prize since its inception in 2001.

This award was created by the Institute of Physics (IoP), the Royal Society of Chemistry (RCS), and the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IoM3). The prize is for scientists who have made an exceptional contribution to Polymer Physics.

Matsen, who holds a joint position as a Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, is being honoured for his remarkable work on molecular self-assembly in polymeric systems involving block copolymers.

Block copolymers are structured polymers composed of two or more chemical components. The tendency for unlike components to separate (like oil and vinegar) causes the block copolymers to self-assemble into elaborate microstructures.

Block copolymers exist all around us, in products such as upholstery foam, adhesive tape, and thermoplastic rubber. Their self-assembling behaviour is also being utilized for a wide range of nanotechnology applications, such as drug delivery, nanoporous membranes, nanostructured templates, and hydrogels.

Matsen is widely recognized for his development of numerical methods that have led to the widespread use of polymer self-consistent field theory (SCFT), an advanced theory capable of precisely predicting the detailed domain structure formed by block copolymer and liquid crystalline systems using microscopic models.

SCFT theory has played a crucial role in experimental studies by identifying and correcting experimental errors and predicting behaviours that have later been confirmed in the laboratory. Matsen is now developing the next generation of theoretical techniques, specifically field-theoretic simulations (FTS), which are more advanced than SCFT.

Video of a Field-Theoretic Simulation

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FTS can simulate massive systems with billions of molecules, whereas traditional simulations are typically limited to thousands of molecules. Matsen is currently working on a version that only involves a single approximation, and he aims to extend his work to FTS that are free of all approximations.

Matsen was inspired in his career by Sir Sam Edwards, who is regarded as the founder of modern polymer and soft matter theory, and who first formulated the self-consistent field theory (SCFT) for polymers.

“I am not alone in thinking that Edwards should have been awarded the Nobel Prize for his numerous ground-breaking developments in polymer physics,” says Matsen.

 Matsen feels immensely privileged to be included among past winners of the Polymer Physics Group Founders’ Prize, along with Edwards and two other scientists who have been knighted for their contributions to science.

Matsen will attend the award ceremony held in September 2024 in Edinburgh, Scotland to receive the award.