Recent News

Penn Collaboration Produces Surprising Insights Into the White Spots on Butterfly Wings

A collaboration between biologists and materials scientists at the University of Pennsylvania is yielding new insights into the whiteness on the wings of the “skipper butterfly”, a dusk-active and shade-inhabiting Costa Rican rain forest butterfly. They identify two types of whiteness: angle-dependent and angle-independent. They speculate that the biological functions and evolution of Carystoides spot patterns, scale structures, and their varying whiteness are adaptations to the butterfly’s low light habitat and to airflow experienced on the wing base versus wing tip during flight.
Note that there is no pigment for “whiteness.” Indeed, structural whiteness is technologically important in systems ranging from power efficient computer displays, to sensors, to energy efficient buildings, windows, and vehicles.
news release

In Memory of Elias ‘Eli’ Burstein

The LRSM lost one of its most distinguished members, Elias ‘Eli’ Burstein, on Saturday, June 17, 2017.  He was 99 years old, only three months short of a century. Eli, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Penn since 1958, was the grand old man of the Penn materials community. It was he, along with Bob Hughes, Chemistry, Bob Madden, Metallurgy, and Norm Hixson, Associate Dean of Engineering, who founded the LRSM in 1960, as an academically unique, interdisciplinary materials research laboratory. They obtained the first grants for the LRSM from the Department of Defense, and starting in 1972, the materials center has garnered funding support continuously from the National Science Foundation. Eli graduated from Brooklyn College in 1938 and took graduate courses at MIT and Catholic University, but his doctoral studies were interrupted by WWII, although he subsequently obtained four honorary doctorates. He retired in 1988 as Mary Amanda Wood professor of physics and remained active as professor emeritus until he died.

Eli was extremely prolific in a career that spanned seven decades. He did it all. He worked on fundamental studies of infrared photoconductivity in silicon and germanium, and he carried out ground-breaking research on semiconductors, insulators, metals, and two-dimensional electron plasmas in semiconductors. Much of this work improved our understanding of optical properties in the solid state. In his later years at Penn, Eli was known for his work on SERS, Surface-Enhanced Raman Scattering; these SERS ideas continue to influence researchers in present-day metamaterials. Finally, near the end of his career, Eli was deeply engaged in understanding optical properties of fullerenes (buckyballs) and other carbon structures.

Eli trained well over 40 graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, many of whom have had very distinguished careers of their own. He also encouraged dissemination of scientific knowledge by organizing international meetings, conferences, symposia, workshops, and through the literature as Founding Editor of the journal Solid State Communications, being editor-in-chief 1963-1992. Among his many honors, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences (1979), and he received the John Price Wetherill Medal from the Franklin Institute, the Frank Isakson Prize from the American Physical Society, and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. He was also a Fellow of the American Physical Society, the Optical Society of America, and the American Association for Advancement of Science.

At the LRSM, we have enjoyed his company at our annual “Burstein Lecture,” named in his honor. Eli is survived by his wife of 73 years, Rena, three daughters, Joanna Mitro, Sara Donna, and Mimi Burstein, and grandchildren, Graham and Susanna Mitro.  He will be missed.

If you are interested in learning more about Eli’s life, please explore the following links:

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18th Mid-Atlantic Soft Matter (MASM)

LRSM co-sponsored the 18th Mid-Atlantic Soft Matter (MASM) meeting at Penn, May 19, 2017. The meeting hosted local invited speakers from Georgetown University, Lehigh University, the University of Delaware, and the University of Pennsylvania. It also featured more than 60 contributed sound-bite talks largely from students and post-docs in the mid-Atlantic region. Doug Durian and Rob Riggleman organized the workshop.

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LRSM Co-founder Dr. Robert E. Hughes Passes at Age 92

Prof. Robert E. (Bob) Hughes, passed away on April 2, 2017, age 92, at his home in Virginia after a long and distinguished career. We knew him best as professor of Chemistry at Penn, from 1953-64 during which time he was instrumental in establishing the LRSM in 1960. Following DARPA’s request for proposals for an interdisciplinary materials research program in 1959, after the Soviet Union’s successful launch of Sputnik, he was appointed to a committee that included Robert Maddin, Metallurgy, Elias Burstein, Physics, and chaired by Norm Hixson, Associate Dean of Engineering, to write the successful grant proposal that funded the LRSM. One of the most controversial decisions to be made was that of naming the lab. Burstein wanted ‘condensed matter physics’ in the title and Maddin wanted ‘structure of materials’ in the title. Bob Hughes solved the problem by giving it the everlasting and somewhat grandiose title, the Laboratory for Research on the ‘Structure’ of ‘Matter’, thus satisfying both. He returned to the LRSM in 2012 to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the lab and stated that he always loved his time at the University of Pennsylvania. On leaving Penn in 1964, he returned to his alma mater, Cornell, where he was director of their Materials Science Center from 1968 to 1974. Subsequently, he became the Assistant Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) from 1974 to 1976 and President of Associated Universities Incorporated (AUI), which administered Brookhaven National Laboratory, from 1980 to 1997. Further details of his career can be found in his obituary at

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Penn Engineers Report First Colloidal Crystals with Diamond Structure

A long-standing goal in material science is to create a material with a complete photonic bandgap, in which light would propagate in a manner analogous to the flow of electrons in a semiconductor. This requires the creation of a very challenging three-dimensional microstructure: an ordered periodic array of highly refractive sub-micron particles arranged so as to mimic the structure of carbon atoms in a diamond crystal. It has long been an elusive goal to form such structures by self-assembly, for example using the ability of colloidal microspheres to spontaneously form into colloidal crystals. Penn researchers John Crocker and Talid Sinno lead an NSF funded project that forms novel colloidal crystals from polymer microspheres covered in interacting DNA strands, and which draws upon technology originally developed by an earlier MRSEC project. Their graduate student Yifan Wang serendipitously discovered the diamond structure crystals in recent experiments, and the results are published in Nature Communications. While significant challenges remain to turn the discovery into an bandgap material, self-assembling the diamond crystals is a significant breakthrough. The occurrence of the diamond crystals is unexpected theoretically, and forming them in simulation has also proven elusive; the team conjectures that the crystals form via the transformation of another, yet undiscovered parent crystal.

news release

Philly Materials Science and Engineering Day 2017

This year marked the 7th annual Philly Materials Science and Engineering Day, held on February 4th, 2017. Through a collaboration between the Penn MRSEC and the Penn and Drexel University Materials Science departments, the day-long event promotes materials research to local K-9 students with tabletop demonstrations and workshops. In all more than 20 LRSM-affiliated graduate students & post-docs volunteered at the event, which draws over 1000 attendees each year.

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MRSEC SEED Project Builds Simple Microrobots Powered by DNA

An emerging approach to building microrobotic devices is to fabricate thin film devices that then curl and fold themselves into complex three-dimensional and dynamic shapes, termed microorigami.  DNA is superior to other materials that use temperature or pH to control such shape actuation; by using different DNA strands many different motions can be controlled independently, enabling sequential folding or complex robotic actuations. MRSEC postdoc Tae Soup Shim created the first microorigami devices formed from and powered by DNA, working in the labs of John Crocker and Daeyeon Lee, with advice from David Chenoweth and So-Jung Park.  The work was recently published in Nature Nanotechnology. By combining photolithography and DNA-based assembly techniques, they could create thousands of identical micromachines in water that can change their shape in seconds when commanded by the addition of DNA strands to solution.  These machines demonstrated the ability to flip themselves over synchronously in a controlled manner, such that they all faced ‘up’ or ‘down’ on command.  Such functionality required two independently controllable types of DNA ‘muscles’, and would would have been difficult or impossible with earlier microorigami materials.  The researchers hope to build still more complicated and capable soft microrobots to interface with biological systems.

news release

2016 MRSEC Education Directors Meeting

The Penn MRSEC hosted a one-and-a-half-day meeting of 27 MRSEC education directors and their staff from 20 (of 21) NSF-supported MRSECs across the USA.  The program was organized by Nevjinder Singhota, Cornell, the organization chair, and was held here at the LRSM on November 3rd & 4th, 2016.

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PKU-Penn Joint Symposium on Molecular Science Frontiers

LRSM co-sponsored and helped initiate the first PKU-Penn Joint Symposium on Molecular Science Frontiers. The event took place at Peking University, Beijing China, July 11-13, 2016. The Symposium covered a wide range of topics from chemistry to physics to materials science and biochemical engineering. Besides scholarship, the workshop helped to developed new synergies between Penn and PKU. Eleven faculty with LRSM affiliation spoke at the Symposium.

Dan Beller, Kamien Group Alum, Wins 2016 Glenn Brown Prize

Dan Beller, Physics and Astronomy alum, won the 2016 Glenn Brown prize from the International Liquid Crystal Society

The Honors and Awards Committee of the ILCS selected Dr. Beller for his thesis work:

For his outstanding theoretical work to identify the rich possibilities and outcomes of controlling defects in nematic and smectic liquid crystals under a variety of boundary conditions.  The demonstration of the well controlled disclinations and focal conics is expected to open up a novel route for self-assembly in soft-ordered materials.

You can read more about the prize on the ILCS website:

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Sweeney Lab Sheds Light on Squid Invisibility

As reported in National GeographicAlison Sweeney and post-doc Amanda Holt of Arts & Sciences showed how a transparent squid uses natural fiber optics as camouflage.  

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First Transistors Made Entirely of Nanocrystal ‘Inks’

The transistor is the most fundamental building block of electronics, used to build circuits capable of amplifying electrical signals or switching them between the 0s and 1s at the heart of digital computation. Transistor fabrication is a highly complex process, however, requiring high-temperature, high-vacuum equipment. 

Now, University of Pennsylvania engineers Cherie Kagan, the Stephen J. Angello Professor in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Ji-Hyuk Choi have shown a new approach for making these devices: sequentially depositing their components in the form of liquid nanocrystal “inks.”

Their new study, published in Science, opens the door for electrical components to be built into flexible or wearable applications, as the lower-temperature process is compatible with a wide array of materials and can be applied to larger areas.

press release

Behavior of Materials at the Atomic Scale

Dawn Bonnell, vice provost for research and a nanotechnologist, spoke to NBC Learn about how the behavior of materials change as they approach the atomic scale.


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D. Lee, K. Stebe and M. Haase Devise Easier Way to Make Bijels

Bijels are bicontinuous networks of interwoven oil and water channels made stable by a percolating film of interfacially jammed colloidal particles. Traditionally fabricated by a delicate batch process via thermally-induced spinodal decomposition, bijels hold tremendous potential as promising platforms for interfacial catalysis and as fascinating vehicles for fundamental studies. A challenge with the traditional bijel formation route is that it is suitable for only few pairs of liquids with carefully tuned nanoparticle wetting properties. Postdoctoral researcher Martin Haase, working jointly with Profs. Daeyeon Lee and Kathleen Stebe, has devised a new approach, based on solvent transfer-induced phase separation (STRIPS). In STRIPS, bijels are formed continuously, from a diverse set of materials, with new degrees of control over the resulting structure. STRIPS exploits ternary liquid systems, comprising oil, water and a solvent, of which there are hundreds of candidate mixtures. If the solvent is removed in the right way, the oil and water phase separate spinodally, and nanoparticles adsorb and stabilize the structures. The nanoparticle wetting can be tuned in situ using surfactants, broadly diversifying the particles used. Solvent gradients can be tuned, for example, in a microfluidics device or via removal from a supported film, allowing bijel structures to be formed continuously, resulting in hierarchically structured particles, fibers or membranes. With this advance, we have taken a giant step toward realizing the promises of these fascinating new materials.

press release

LRSM & ASEOP Forge Collaboration with the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST)

In an exciting development, we signed a Memo of Understanding to spur increased collaboration between  Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), Materials and Life Science Research Division (MLSRD) and two centers of excellence at the University of Pennsylvania.  These include the newly launched Center AESOP (Center for Analyzing Evolved Structures as Optimized Products (AESOP): Science and engineering for the human habitat), directed by Shu Yang and Randall Kamien, and the The Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter (LRSM), directed by Arjun Yodh.   Our aim is to build on existing collaborations and synergies, and to expand them under the auspices of these  centers.  This was an exciting visit with tremendous promise of more interaction to come.

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Quick News Links

  • Charlie Johnson, Ivan Dmochowski, Jeffery Saven and Others Use New Type of Graphene Sensor to Answer a Fundamental Nanotechnology Question  news release
  • Dennis Discher, and Team, Engineer Macrophages to Engulf Cancer Cells in Solid Tumors.  news release
  • Arjun Yodh Discovers Why Drying Liquid Crystal Drops Leave Unusual ‘Coffee Rings’.  news release
  • Alison Sweeney reveals new findings on how Hatchetfish scatter light for camouflage.  news release
  • Zahra Fakhraai and Yue Zhang Discover a Surprising Property of Glass Surfaces news release
  • Penn Researchers, Lead by Virgil Percec, Push the Limits of Organic Synthesis news release
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  • Robert Carpick & Ju Li, Contribute to New Understanding of Friction on Graphene. news release
  • Arjun Yodh Named AAAS Fellow for seminal contributions to the field of experimental soft condensed matter physics, especially in optical measurements and applications in biophysics. news release
  • Penn MRSEC Team Develop Nanoscale ‘Muscles’ Powered by DNA news release
  • Eleni Katifori Finds Straightforward Way to Model Growth of Vein Networks news release
  • Zahra Fakhraai & Robert Riggleman receive 3-year, $1.2 million NSF grant to study molecule packing in ultra-thin glass films news release
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  • Mark Licurse engages Girard College seventh graders in a week-long science program. news release & photos
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  • Marija Drndić lab builds and tests transistors inside a microscope. news release ACS Nano
  • Andrea Liu elected to the National Academy of Sciences. news release
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  • Former LRSM Student, Krishan L. Luthra, Pioneers a Materials Breakthrough after Decades of Research. read more
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  • Cherie Kagan & Paulo Arratia - Penn Engineering 2015 Teaching Awards news release
  • New soft matter topical group of the American Physical Society led by Randall Kamien read more
  • Gazette article on Charles Kane's discovery of topological insulators read article
  • Talid Sinno, John Crocker, Kathleen Stebe use 'Soft' Nanoparticles to Model Behavior at Interfaces news release
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  • Shu Yang, with help from Daniel Gianola, develop 'smart' windows. news release
  • David Srolovitz Elected to National Academy Of Engineering news release
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  • Douglas Durian (U Penn) in collaboration with Remi Dreyfus (CNRS/Solvay), as part of the joint Compass laboratory, have studied the morphology of fingered flow in laboratory models of sandy soils with hydrogel particle additives. view paper
  • Alison Sweeney Receives 2014 Packard Fellowship in Science and Engineering read more
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  • Arjun Yodh Reappointed Director of LRSM read more
  • RET Alumn, Trey Smith receives Teacher as Hero Award read more
  • Charles Kane Elected to National Academy of Sciences news release
  • Philadelphia Science Festival 2014 read more
  • Science at the Sixers with Matthew Lohr and Daniel Beller highlight
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  • Shu Yang: superhydrophobic coatings watch video
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  • Kagan group ground breaking research published in ACS Nano demonstrates in-situ repair of nanocrystal surfaces allows large-area nanocrystal device fabrication in air and solvents. read article in ACS Nano
  • Research by Arjun Yodh of Physics and Astronomy indicates that stuttering may be caused by blood flow and hemodynamic changes in parts of the brain that control speech. read more
  • Dawn Bonnell, NBIC Director, appointed to Vice Provost for Research
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  • Dennis Discher: "Protein 'Passport' That Help Nanoparticles Get Past Immune System" highlight
  • Dawn Bonnell Elected to National Academy of Engineering press release
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  • Penn team making waves with liquid crystals read more press release
  • SAS Interview with Charles Kane on Topological Insulators read article
  • LRSM Science Café @ World Cafe Live read more
  • Russell J. Composto receives NSF Special Creativity Award read more
  • Facilities for Nanotechnology in Philadelphia workshop 1.8.13 more info
  • Daeyeon Lee on crack-free nanoparticle films read more
  • Charles Kane Named Simons Investigator and Awarded $500,000 Grant read more
  • Watch video recorded during LRSM's 50th Celebration! watch the videos
  • Charles Kane Named Simons Investigator and Awarded $500,000 Grant read more
  • Kathleen Stebe Shows New Way of Assembling Particles Into Complex Structures read more
  • Daniel Hammer: Natural Plant Protein Into Drug-delivery Vehicles read more
  • Charlie Johnson Expands the Use of Carbon Nanotubes read more
  • Celebrating LRSM's 50th! read more
  • PREM Event: The New Science of Disordered Materials view poster
  • 2nd COMPASS Symposium March 28, 2012 view poster
  • Dennis Discher Elected to National Academy of Engineering read more
  • Philly Materials Science and Engineering Day, February 4, 2012 read more
  • Lukes and Winkelstein named 2012 Penn Fellows
  • Charlie Kane, 2012 Oliver E. Buckley Prize more
  • LRSM-NIMS Materials Workshop read more
  • Inside cover Advanced Materials, December 8, 2011 read article
  • LRSM awarded a six-year MRSEC grant from the NSF read more
  • Sensing membrane stress with near IR-emissive porphyrins