‘The greatest misconception of science is that progress can be planned’

12 Sep 2018

Image: tomes/Shutterstock

Prof Matthias Möbius of Trinity College Dublin explains why it is so important that we know how both solids and liquids flow.

After completing his master’s in physics from Imperial College London, Prof Matthias Möbius went on to complete a PhD in physics at the University of Chicago. He continued developing his academic credentials as a postdoctoral researcher at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

Since 2009, he has been an assistant professor in soft matter physics at Trinity College Dublin. His research is focused on experimental soft condensed matter physics and non-equilibrium physics.

Can you tell us about the research you’re currently working on?

I study the structure and flow properties of materials that can behave like both a solid and liquid, so-called complex fluids.

I started my career on granular media, such as sand, and more recently have worked on foams, such as shaving cream and nanoparticle suspensions. The latter is crucial for printed electronic applications, which is the subject of my Science Foundation Ireland Career Development Award.

In your opinion, why is your research important?

Understanding the flow behaviour of these fluids is crucial for processing purposes. Also, the microstructure of films made from nanosuspensions determines their properties, such as electrical conductivity. Therefore, it is important to understand how these structures are formed and how they can be tuned.

What commercial applications do you foresee for your research?

This research will guide the development of next-generation inkjet technology that can accommodate 2D nanosuspensions for printed electronics applications.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a researcher in your field?

One of the big challenges is to image the 3D structure formed by nanoparticles in films and composite materials. Also, to be able to tune this structure and finally determine the relationship between structure and mechanical as well as electrical properties.

Are there any common misconceptions about this area of research?

The greatest misconception of science in general is that progress can be planned. Most breakthrough discoveries come from serendipity, such as x-rays, penicillin. You study one thing, but stumble over something that is actually more exciting and important.

What are some of the areas of research you’d like to see tackled in the years ahead?

Having better, more scalable methods to make nanoparticles of arbitrary shape and size.

Who is your unsung hero of science and why?

Ludwig Boltzmann, the father of statistical mechanics. He promoted the view that matter is made from atoms, which was controversial in the late 19th century. He struggled to defend his theories, which by now are a cornerstone of physics.