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Georgetown Convenes Global Physics Workshop

June 17, 2016 – A two-day physics workshop on processes that have implications for soft robotics and smart materials began at Georgetown yesterday.

Sponsored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Science Foundation, and several companies, the workshop, called The Rheology of Dense Particle Suspensions, is being attended by researchers from all over the world.

Physics professors Daniel Blair  and Emanuela Del Gado organized the workshop, and a number of other Georgetown faculty members are participating, including physicist Peter Olmsted.

“The workshop is on the flow of dense suspensions of particles, which are at the core of industrial technologies for cements and pastes, drilling and recovery, personal care and chemical products, slurry and powders,” explains Georgetown physicist Emanuela Del Gado, whose research focuses on the material properties of a major contributor to climate change – the cement used in concrete.

The particles can act as liquids, she says, which flow with relative ease under slow forcing, while fast forcing causes an abrupt thickening and arrest of the flow, similar to what happens when you mix cornstarch powder and water. 

"Controlling these phenomena is a key factor to achieve sustainable and optimized industrial processes,” explains the professor, who is part of the university’s Institute for Soft Matter Synthesis and Metrology. “Emerging technologies, like soft robotics or smart materials with adaptive mechanics, could use the abrupt thickening as a novel design concept to achieve new functionalities.”

Del Gado adds that the workshop brings together theoretical and experimental physicists with chemical engineers, chemists and industrial researchers from around the globe, to discuss questions that can have a huge impact on technology and practical life.

“We are steering the current understanding of these phenomena and talking about the latest ideas, experiments and their practical implications,” she says.

Pasha Tabatabai a Georgetown graduate student in the physics department who works in Blair's lab, says the workshop is important because it “shows that our research is cutting-edge and important to the scientific community. “

“I believe the hosting of the workshop by Georgetown helps solidify both our university’s and the institute's position in the field of Soft Matter,” he says. “It is an exciting opportunity to be surrounded by so many experts in the field.”