News & Announcements

RT- MRSEC Investigator Bob Behringer's work was recently featured in an article in The News & Observer.

Titled "Duke physicist bullies beads to study avalanches", its a great feature of Bob's group and their work on granular materials and their response to stress forces!

Congratulations Behringer Lab!

Check out the article here:

Researchers have created a computer program that will open a challenging field in synthetic biology to the entire world.

Computational Results for the Optimization of a Variety of Repetitive Proteins

In the past decade, billions of dollars have been spent on technology that can quickly and inexpensively read and write DNA to synthesize and manipulate polypeptides and proteins.

That technology, however, stumbles when it encounters a repetitive genetic recipe. This includes many natural and synthetic materials used for a range of applications from biological adhesives to synthetic silk. Like someone struggling with an “impossible” jigsaw puzzle, synthesizers have trouble determining which genetic piece goes where when many of the building blocks look the same.

Scientists from Duke University have removed this hurdle by developing a freely available computer program based on the “traveling salesman” mathematics problem. Synthetic biologists can now find the least-repetitive genetic code to build the molecule they want to study. The researchers say their program will allow those with limited resources or expertise to easily explore synthetic biomaterials that were once available to only a small fraction of the field. Read More

Nature Materials Publication

The Triangle Soft Matter Discussion Group (TSMDG) continues this year with our next meeting on January 27, 2016. The dinner discussion will feature Professor Jeremiah Johnson from the Chemistry Department at MIT ( and (our own! J) Professor Michael Rubinstein from the Chemistry Department at UNC Chapel Hill ( The event will be held again at Mediterranean Deli, 410 W Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, on January 27, 2016 starting at 6:00 PM.

The discussion topic for this gathering is Bringing Biological Complexity to Synthetic Soft Matter Systems, and a brief outline is provided below. This is going to be fun and interactive gathering, and we hope you will join us.

Please respond via email to by January 20, 2016 if you plan to attend the TSMDG event (definitely/with probability x%). Knowing the number of participants will allow us to plan the catering for the event that will be sponsored in part by TSMDG and potentially some other organizations. To that end, we will subsidize the cost of food so that each student/post-doc will pay $8 and any professional will pay $15 out of pocket (excluding drinks).

Hope to see on January 27th, 2016!

Kind regards,

Steve Craig, Michael Rubinstein & Jan Genzer

P.S. Please feel free to distribute this announcement among other people in the Research Triangle who are interested in soft material research.

Triangle Soft Matter Discussion Group - January 27, 2016 at 6 PM

  • Mediterranean Deli, 410 W Franklin St., Chapel Hill, NC
  • Topic: Bringing Biological Complexity to Synthetic Soft Matter System
  • Jeremiah Johnson (MIT) & Michael Rubinstein (UNC)

Sub-topic 1: Primary structure control in synthetic polymers: bridging the gap between nature and man?

Following an introduction (Johnson), we will consider the following questions:

  • What functions can we expect from synthetic polymers with precise structure?
  • We always refer to nature's functions like catalysis and information storage, which are likely a long way off for synthetic polymers. Are there other "lower hanging fruits??
  • Is there a gap between the sophistication of nature's polymers and existing synthetic polymers that can still provide for discovery of new properties? What would be the best structures/systems/applications/properties to target?

Sub-topic 2: Recognition and replication in particle assemblies: physical models to inspire design

Following an introduction (Rubinstein), we will consider the following challenge:

Propose a soft matter interaction that could be the basis for self-replicating materials.

  • What physics can be exploited to generate interactions that are strong and selective enough for recognition, but weak enough to be reversed by change in conditions?
  • How can one efficiently string together a sequence of such units?
  • Consider the challenge that the daughter is a good match for the parent, and so inhibition by dimerization is a potential problem. How to minimize?

Research Triangle MRSEC faculty member, Orlin Velev (NCSU), presented a talk on Hydrogel-Based Bimimetic Devices and Soft Robotic Components Operating on Ionic and Microfluidic Principles at the Fall 2015 MRSEC Meeting in Boston, MA. This talk was also highlighted on the MRS Website

At this same conference, 5th year PhD student and RT-MRSEC Fellow, Sumeet Mishra, presented a talk, "Anisotropic Actuation of Elastomer Films Containing Chained Magnetic Nanoparticles", and received the gold PhD Award. MRS Graduate Student Awards are intended to honor and encourage graduate students whose academic achievements and current materials research display a high level of excellence and distinction. MRS seeks to recognize students of exceptional ability who show promise for significant future achievement in materials research. Selection is highly competitive and receiving a gold or silver award is certainly one that you can reflect upon with pride for many years to come. Many of the previous winners have moved on to highly distinguished careers, as well as to leadership positions within the Materials Research Society.

Sumeet studies in the group of Joseph Tracy, and in a project in collaboration with Michael Dickey and Orlin Velev. 

Their work can also be sited in the Nanoscale Journal through the Royal Society of Chemistry. Their article, "Selective and Directional Actuation of Elastomer Films Using Chained Magnetic Nanoparticles", has been accepted for publication.