Soft and Complex Materials

We are an experimental physics lab whose research focuses on complex phenomena that arise via exotic interactions between liquids and solids.  Our work is highly interdisciplinary, sitting at the intersection of soft matter physics, materials science, complex fluids, and chemistry.  Under this general umbrella, our lab addresses a variety of distinct topics ranging from the nanoscale to the macroscale and involving experimental techniques ranging from atomic force microscopy to high-speed imaging.

An example at the smallest scale is the phenomenon of tribocharging—the exchange of electrical charge between objects during contact.  Although well-known to anyone who has been shocked by a doorknob and described scientifically going back as far as ancient Greece, the underlying mechanism for tribocharging remains mysterious.  We are particularly interested in same-material tribocharging, which counterintuitively occurs when identical materials are brought into contact.  Recent results suggest that this puzzling phenomenon might result from the stochastic deposition of nanoscale islands of water on the material surface.  Using advanced AFM capabilities to characterize surfaces and cutting-edge techniques to measure charge exchange, a major goal is to validate or nullify this hypothesis and help resolve this millennia-old mystery.  

At larger scales, we are interested in the non-Newtonian dynamics that arise when colloidal-sized solid particles are suspended in liquids.  Perhaps the most well-known example is a dense mixture of cornstarch particles in water, which behaves liquid-like when perturbed gently but solid-like when vigorously agitated.  Previous work has centered on passive non-Newtonian suspensions such as this, but moving forward our lab will focus on smart colloidal suspensions filled with particles that can be controlled by environmental stimuli.  Our long-term goal in this direction is to achieve a level of spatiotemporal control that allows us to design and build metafluids—liquids whose material properties can be changed on command.

Scott Waitukaitis
Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria)
Am Campus 1
A – 3400 Klosterneuburg

Scott Waitukaitis will join IST Austria in July 2019.


»CV and publication list

Alexandra Mally

Phone: +43 2243 9000-1105

Open Positions
We are looking for exceptional Ph.D. students and postdocs with a strong experimental background to start in the summer or fall of 2019. 
Postdoc candidates should send their application, including a CV and a statement of motivation and research interests, to Ph.D. candidates should apply directly to the IST Austria Graduate School.

Selected Publications

  • Coupling the Leidenfrost effect and elastic deformations to power sustained bouncing. Scott Waitukaitis, Antal Zuiderwijk, Anton Souslov, Corentin Coulais and Martin van Hecke. Nature Physics 13, 1095-1099 (2017).
  • Direct observation of particle interactions and clustering in charged granular streams. Victor Lee, Scott Waitukaitis, Marc Miskin and Heinrich Jaeger. Nature Physics 11, 733-737 (2015).
  • Origami multistability:  from single vertices to metasheets. Scott Waitukaitis, Rémi Menaut, Bryan Chen and Martin van Hecke. Physical Review Letters 114, 055503 (2015).
  • Size-dependent, same-material tribocharging in insulating grains. Scott Waitukaitis, Victor Lee, James Pierson, Steve Forman and Heinrich Jaeger. Physical Review Letters 112, 218001 (2014).
  • Impact-activated solidification of dense suspensions via dynamic jamming fronts. Scott Waitukaitis and Heinrich Jaeger. Nature 487, 205-209 (2012).

    As of 2019 Assistant Professor, IST Austria
    2016-2018 Veni Fellow and postdoctoral scholar at AMOLF, Amsterdam NL
    2013-2016 Postdoctoral Scholar at Leiden University, Leiden NL
    2007-2013 Ph.D. in physics at the University of Chicago, Chicago USA

    Selected Distinctions
    2018 Block Prize for Outstanding Young Researcher
    2016-present Veni Research Grant from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research
    2014 The Springer Thesis Award, Springer Publishing
    2012 The Bruce Winstein Prize for Instrumentation
    2010-2013 Robert A. Millikan Fellowship

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