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Like Yin and Yang, soft matter and nanotechnology are interconnected and interdependent fields. Their future is bright, as demonstrated by an international showcase of excellent work in a Small special issue.
Soft matter and nanotechnology are both becoming increasingly important and ubiquitous. The term "soft matter" was first coined by Nobel Prize winner Pierre-Gilles de Gennes and includes many soft materials with distinctive and complex physical properties. "Nanotechnology" applies to any technology with components on the nanoscopic scale, i.e., 1-100 × 10-9 metres. Things this small can be made by making large things smaller, (so-called top-down approach) or by assembling small molecules and species (bottom-up approach).
Small is publishing a special issue on Nanotechnology with Soft Matter, in conjunction with three guest editors: Xiaodong Chen (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore), Harald Fuchs (University of Muenster, Germany), and Freddy Boey (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore). The issue encompasses many aspects of soft matter with nanotechnology, and brings together leading scientists from Singapore and across the globe to showcase the best research happening today at the interface of these two areas.
In the editorial, Chen breaks down the scope of the issue into five main areas, covering the 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. Chen explains that the issue should be of interest to people working not only in soft matter or nanotechnology, but right across materials science, chemistry, physics, and biology. This wide range of potential readers makes Small the ideal venue for the Special Issue.
The Issue is associated with a prestigious and established international conference—ICMAT (International Conference on Materials for Advanced Technologies), which runs biennially in Singapore by the Materials Research Society of Singapore. The conference attracts over 2000 delegates and three to four Nobel Prize winners as speakers each time around. In particular, all of the contributions in the Issue were selectively invited from amongst the speakers of the Nanotechnology with Soft Matter symposium, chaired by Xiaodong Chen.
Chen feels that the cover image (shown here) sums up the Issue nicely; "I really like the cover design", he says, "Yin-Yang is an old Chinese concept [to describe the balance of forces in the natural world] but we use it here to represent nanotechnology and soft matter. They are two different areas but they are interconnected and interdependent". Thus the cover reflects the synergy between soft matter and nanotechnology.
Boey, who is also the Nanyang Technological University Provost and until 2010 was the Chair of the School of Materials Science and Engineering, is proud of the input of his university and Singapore in general to this growing and fruitful area; "There has been a strongly sustained effort over the last five years", he notes, "I see this issue as a landmark to show where we are at in soft materials".
For the future of these two connected areas, the Editors are cautious but optimistic. As with so many things, continued funding will be vital but focus is important too. "You can throw money at research but it is no use if you do not reach a certain critical mass of research" says Boey, "It's so gratifying to see that this research has translated into good science".
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