Multiscale Materials


The mesoscale structuring of materials (i.e. tens to hundreds of nanometers) determines the interactions between their different components and hence is key to many technological applications. The ability to master the multiscale assembly of materials with mesoscopic structure has therefore been identified as one of the most important research areas in materials science. It is clear that for this we must advance our understanding on the assembly of materials systems from smaller structural and functional units.

In biology we find many examples in which the hierarchical organization of building blocks extends over several length scales and gives rise to advanced physical properties, tailor-made to specific such as skeletal support, light harvesting and magnetic sensing. Although biology exploits self-assembly for virtually every aspect of life, for the construction of these hierarchical materials organisms continuously relocate their "materials synthesis infrastructure" or use "conveyer belt" strategies to allow molecular self-organization over different length scales. As such, materials biosynthesis is a combination of top-down (self-assembly) and bottom-up (localized production/processing) strategies.

In our studies we combine the use of both bottom up (Self-assembly) and bottom up approaches to generate hybrid materials from polymeric, mineral and carbon based building blocks. To study the formation of multiscale materials we combine the use of cryo-electron microscopy and liquid phase electron microscopy with (FIB)SEM and TEM/STEM to obtain information on structure formation both during the molecular self-assembly of the mesoscale building block, and during their colloidal self-assembly into larger, multimicrometer scale structures. This will provide new insights in the different stages of the bottom-up assembly process, but also help to optimize molecular self-assembly, template mineralization and colloidal self-organization in the synthesis of functional hierarchical structures. To obtain insight in how the manipulation of mesoscale structures can lead to advanced functional materials, we also characterize the properties (mechanical, electrical) of the synthesized materials.

This multidisciplinary research would not be possible without the collaborations listed below:

Current collaborators:

  • Dr. Simon J. Holder (University of Kent, UK): Block copolymers and bicontinuous aggregates;
  • Prof. Remco Tuinier (TU/e Physical Chemistry, NL): Colloidal assembly of silica structures;
  • Prof. Boaz Pokroy (Technion, Haifa, IL): High resolution TEM;
  • Prof. Sara Bals (EMAT, Antwerp, BE);
  • Prof. Marjolein Dijkstra (Utrecht University, NL);
  • Prof. Alfons van Blaaderen (Utrecht University, NL);
  • Prof. Lennart Bergström (Stockholm University, SE);
  • Prof. Niels de Jonge (Institute fur Neue Materialen, DE);
  • Dr. Flor Siperstein (University of Manchester, UK);
  • Prof. Anders Palmqvist (Chalmers University of Technology, SE);
  • Dr. Michael Persson (Akzo Nobel Pulp and Performance Chemicals, SE);
  • Dr. Aravind Ramaswami (Separex, FR);

Research projects:

Ongoing Projects:

  • Understanding structure formation in hierarchical hybrid materials through in situ liquid phase microscopy;
  • Degradation in organic solar cells;
  • High-conductivity, printable and transparent electrodes based on graphene nanocomposites for  organic electronics and polymer solar cells;
  • Characterizations of nanocomposites;
  • Formation and self-organization of nanoparticles with bicontinuous internal structure;
  • Controlled pore architectures through co-assembly of silica and polymer based nanoparticles;
  • Low dose LP-EM for multiscale imaging.

Previous Projects:

For further reading (Review Papers):

Polymer self assembly:

B.E. McKenzie, S.J. Holder, N.A.J.M. Sommerdijk, Assessing internal structure of polymer assemblies from 2D and 3D cryoTEM: Bicontinous micelles,Current Opinion in Colloid and Interface Science 17 [6] 343-349 (2012).

S.J. Holder, N.A.J.M. Sommerdijk, New micellar morphologies from amphiphilic block copolymers: disks, toroids and bicontinuous micelles, Polymer Chemistry 2 [5] 1018-1028 (2011).




  • prof.dr. Nico Sommerdijk
  • dr. Jos Laven (Assistant Professor)
  • dr. Heiner Friedrich (Assitant Professor)
  • dr. Gunther Hoffmann (Researcher)
  • dr. Joe Patterson (Researcher)
  • Kirill Arapov (PhD student)
  • Oana Barsan (PhD student)
  • Khartik Gnanasekaran (PhD student)
  • Zino Leijten (PhD student)