Visualising and manipulating chemical structures
In the last few years, we have become especially excited by molecular-scale structure growing to the meso-scale and even becoming visible on the macroscopic scale. The mesoscale is a step up in size and complexity from the nanoscale, which has been the focus of research and massive funding for the past decade. It describes a no-man’s land between the molecular and macroscopic scale where a wide array of “emergent” phenomena reveal themselves, even life itself. An example is the nucleation of crystals from solution: such crystals start life as nanometre scale molecular clusters that, through chance, grow to become macroscopic crystals. Phase transitions in the liquid also start on a molecular scale and grow to cause separation of phases. Understanding these phenomena is both basic science and of huge commercial importance.
Thus, we are now expanding into exciting new experimental areas such as confocal fluorescence microscopy with which we will be able to study phase separation directly. Fluorescence lifetime imaging (FLIM) and fluorescence correlation spectroscopy (FCS) will give unique insight in the local properties of phases and the local molecular dynamics. Dynamic and static light scattering is used to follow the generation of clusters, droplets, crystals, and other forms of soft matter as a function of time. Microfluidics are used to carry out complex phase transitions and chemical reactions right under the microscope. Last but not least, we aim to control chemical matter: by using femtosecond lasers we should be able to push transitions around to a desired state.