Areas of Research
Polymers and Soft Materials

Soft materials and polymers are ubiquitous in our lives and form the basis of many advances in medicine, sustainability, manufacturing, and clean water access. What makes these materials unique is that their structure and dynamics span multiple length- and time- scales, and these microscopic characteristics can be engineered to control material properties. At Northwestern, researchers seek to discover and exploit these relationships to design materials that improve the performance of technologies that address important societal challenges including lowering the cost of renewable energy generation and storage, generating renewable fuels, circularizing the plastics economy, and creating the next-generation of high-performance composites.

Research Areas

Areas of emphasis for faculty in our department include controlling electronic and ionic transport, enhancing mechanical durability and reprocessability, enabling the next generation of soft robots and flexible electronics, and discovering new material properties and structure-property relationships. These efforts are informed by a deep expertise in synthesis, fabrication, and characterization techniques including small angle scattering, optical microscopy, electrochemical measurements, rheology and mechanics, and simulation.

At Northwestern, the soft matter and polymer research community is vibrant and includes faculty from diverse personal and academic backgrounds. The proximity to Argonne National Laboratory, our strong inter-departmental relationships, and the International Institute for Nanotechnology (IIN) make our department and Northwestern a hub for soft matter and polymer research world-wide.



Linda Broadbelt

The Broadbelt Lab is developing polyurethanes that can be recycled via simple thermal treatment or from which monomer can be recovered by solvolytic means.

Wesley Burghardt

The Burghardt lab seeks to understand the dynamics of complex fluids and polymers during flow.

Jeffrey Lopez

Polymeric materials for energy storage applications, charge transport in polymer membranes, reactions at electrochemical interfaces, automated experimentation

Richard Lueptow 

The Lueptow lab combines modeling, simulation, and experiments to study mixing in granular materials and transport processes in polymeric materials.

Tobin Marks

The Marks group has chemists and engineers working on waste polymer deconstruction and recycling, solar energy, and efficient hydrocarbon utilization.

Chad Mirkin

Mirkin explores the enormous parameter space of polyelemental nanoparticles, identifying ones for fuel cells, solar energy, and light emission.

Monica Olvera de la Cruz

The Olvera de la Cruz group develops models to study the self-assembly and structure of amphiphiles, copolymers, and synthetic and biological polyelectrolytes as well as segregation and interface adsorption in multicomponent complex fluids.

Jeffrey Richards

The Richards Laboratory studies the properties of soft materials and engineers them for applications including renewable energy storage and new sensors.

George Schatz

Schatz uses molecular dynamics and electronic structure theory methods to describe self-assembly of biopolymers, and polymer mechanical/structural properties.

Igal Szleifer

The Szliefer group develops molecular models of biointerphases to gain fundamental understanding of the properties of complex molecular systems that encompass problems at the interface between medicine, biology, chemistry, physics and materials science.

John Torkelson

The Torkelson group seeks to both understand molecular-scale behavior of polymers to engineer their properties by tuning molecular-scale responses via dynamic chemistry, nanoscale confinement, chain architecture, and novel solid-state processing, among other methods.

Mitchell Wang

The Wang Laboratory uses optics, synthesis, and high-throughput characterization to understand and design polymers for biomaterials and sustainability.