Chemical biology news from across RSC Publishing.
Interview: Making soft matter
16 September 2009
Martien Cohen Stuart talks to Alexandra Haywood about soft matter, music and fruit trees
Martien Cohen Stuart is professor and chair of physical chemistry and colloid science at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and is the new chair of the Soft Matter editorial board. He has received numerous awards, including the Akzo Nobel Science Award in 2008. Martien has a broad range of research interests in the field of soft condensed matter, including surfactants, emulsions, self-assembly, interfaces, wetting and the physics of macromolecules in living cells.
Welcome to the Soft Matter editorial board. What excites you most about your new role?
Two things, one is that I get a look behind the scenes at what's going on in publishing and what's going on in soft matter which I find interesting. The other thing is that I get to meet many people in the area that play a role in this field of science.
Who or what inspired you to become a scientist?
How would you define soft matter and what motivated you to work in this field?
What I see as soft matter is the collective behaviour of molecules and particles. So not just one single particle but the way that they interact together, the structures they form and the way they organise. The role of the forces and energies controlling such systems that bring out the structure and the function is also part of this field. It is also very important to understand why these structures form. So those two aspects I think are key to soft matter, not just to know how, but to know why. That's where the science is.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
What's going to be next big thing in your field?
That's hard to say. I think from the view point of the needs for society, soft matter has got a lot to offer in the area of energy harvesting, photovoltaics and perhaps in understanding the mechanisms of photosynthesis in plants and biomimetic approaches to the same things. So I think and hope that soft matter is going to be important in the future.
Which scientific discoveries have you been responsible for?
I think that I more or less discovered the possibility of using electrostatic attraction to steer assembly in various ways. I co-discovered polyelectrolyte multilayers with a few others in the world. I think I also shed a lot of light on how they can be understood.
Collaborations form a large part of modern scientific research. Which scientist, past or present, would you really like to work with?
Well the one person that I very much admire and I would like to work with is the late Pierre Gilles de Gennes, a physicist from France. I happened to spend a year in his lab as a postdoc and that was an absolutely fascinating time. Of course I can't work any more with him, nobody can, but I think that his legacy is carried forth by a couple of people. Other people that I would like to work with for a while are Mike Cates and Wilson Poon in Edinburgh. It's a very interesting place where I could learn a lot and join in with their modelling and experimental work.
What do you enjoy doing when you're not working?
And finally, if you weren't a scientist, what would you do?
I think I could have been a professional musician. There was a deciding moment in my life when I had taken the entrance exam to a music conservatoire and had been offered a place to do a PhD. In the end I decided I'd prefer to be a happy amateur rather than a frustrated professional in music and I went for science.
Martien Cohen Stuart's homepage
Wageningen University page for Martien Cohen Stuart
External links will open in a new browser window
Also of interest
Soft Matter's top 5 most published authors
27 July 2009
Soft Matter 'Top 5' series: most published authors
Spherocylindrical coacervate core micelles formed by a supramolecular coordination polymer and a diblock copolymer
Yun Yan, Ludger Harnau, Nicolaas A. M. Besseling, Arie de Keizer, Matthias Ballauff, Sabine Rosenfeldt and Martien A. Cohen Stuart, Soft Matter, 2008, 4, 2207
Salt-induced release of lipase from polyelectrolyte complex micelles
Saskia Lindhoud, Renko de Vries, Ralf Schweins, Martien A. Cohen Stuart and Willem Norde, Soft Matter, 2009, 5, 242