Three Senior Soft Condensed Matter Physicists Are First of Eight To Be Hired Through “The Partners Fund”

New York University has put together a team of internationally recognized physicists to head its research initiative in the field of soft condensed matter physics, a new inter-disciplinary field that explores how nature organizes complex function structures by studying the physical properties of malleable materials such as colloids and polymers. Paul Chaikin, David Grier, and David Pine will lead a team of researchers in establishing NYU’s Center for Soft Matter Research.

The three physicists are the first of eight to be recruited for the center, which will include both experimentalists and theorists. They are among the University’s first major recruitments under its intensive five-year, $200-million hiring initiative in the arts and sciences, “The Partners Fund,” which will increase the size of arts and science faculty by 20 percent. The Partners Fund is part of the University’s ongoing $2.5 billion “Campaign for NYU,” which is raising money for scholarships and financial aid, faculty building, new academic initiatives, and the enhancement of NYU’s physical facilities.

“These three physicists validate the ambition of NYU’s hiring initiative in the arts and sciences,” said NYU Provost David McLaughlin. “Professors Chaikin, Grier, and Pine are just the first of many scholars the university will attract to join its established arts and science faculty, and they exemplify our aspiration: to define the next generation of intellectual leadership here at NYU.”

Soft condensed matter research seeks to understand how processes driven by interactions at microscopic scales give rise to hierarchies of organization in complex materials. This knowledge enables us to manage these basic organizing principles to create new systems, materials, and devices. The field draws on insights and expertise from biology, chemistry, and several branches of engineering, while remaining firmly rooted in physics.

“The recruitment of this set of scholars really illustrates the beauty and distinctiveness of The Partners Fund initiative,” said Richard Foley, NYU’s Dean of Faculty of Arts and Science. “It allows us to act strategically, to contemplate multiple hires, and to match resources to academic priorities. By attracting senior, prominent scholars in clusters, rather than individually, the university can achieve what is often very difficult: rapidly and effectively building academic strength in several fields in the arts and sciences.”

“The hiring of these distinguished physicists exemplifies our commitment to excel in the sciences,” said Peter Lennie, NYU’s Dean for Science. “We are assembling an unmatched group of scholars in a field that will be hugely important in 21st century physics.”

The Center for Soft Matter Research will also host visiting scholars who will work with the permanent NYU faculty and graduate students on a continuing basis.

Touting the overarching aims of soft condensed matter research, Grier noted, “By studying specially prepared experimentally accessible systems, we begin to grasp how processes as complex as life emerge from molecular-scale interactions.”

Grier, who came to NYU from the University of Chicago this year, has developed methods that allow scientists to manipulate objects as small as a few nanometers across and as large as several millimeters. Through his invention of holographic optical trapping he can split laser light into hundreds of computer-guided tractor beams and use them to move samples such as living cells around at his discretion. These “optical tweezers” allow scientists to organize microscopic objects into interesting and useful configurations, to dissect them, to assemble them into devices, or to chemically transform them, all with unprecedented precision.

Pine, who joins the NYU faculty in November, focuses on the structure of complex fluids and their use for building new porous materials. As one of the developers of Diffusing-Wave Spectroscopy, he is also concerned with the use of multiple-light scattering as a probe of the structure and dynamics of complex fluids. Pine had been chair of the Chemical Engineering Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Chaikin, who begins his tenure at NYU is January 2005, has investigated the physical and mathematical principles of particles, and, specifically, how they pack together—a persistent scientific problem for hundreds of years. Findings in this area have implications for the design of high-density ceramic materials for use in aerospace and other applications. He is currently at Princeton University.

Editor’s Note

New York University, a member of the selective Association of American Universities, was established in 1831 and is located in the heart of Greenwich Village. Through its 14 schools and colleges, NYU conducts research and provides education in the arts and sciences, law, medicine, business, dentistry, education, nursing, the cinematic and dramatic arts, music, public administration, social work, and continuing and professional studies, among other areas.

With approximately 600 faculty and 10,000 students, the Faculty of Arts and Science (FAS) is the largest academic unit of New York University. FAS consists of the undergraduate College of Arts and Science (CAS), the Graduate School of Arts and Science (GSAS), and three disciplinary divisions: the Division of the Humanities, the Division of Science and the Division of the Social Sciences. Founded in 1832, CAS formed the foundation of the university. GSAS was added in 1886, awarding the second earned doctorate in the United States.

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