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Photoresponsive Soft Matter


Molecules that respond to light by isomerization, dissociation, or polymerization may be incorporated into surfactant self-assembly structures, thereby creating novel forms of matter that change their properties when exposed to different wavelengths of light. Light can be used to trigger release from nanocapsules, change a material’s viscoelasticity and transform gels into liquids (or vice versa), or trigger a phase transition. In this project we will explore how both photoactive surfactants themselves and photoactive additives affect self-assembly structure and trigger structural transformations in micelles, vesicles, microemulsions and lyotropic liquid crystals, as well as in colloidal systems such as foams and emulsions.


Professor Gregory Warr.

Research location

School of Chemistry

Program type



In collaboration with researchers at Tokyo University of Science, we have begun examining how to design and assemble soft materials whose structures change under UV or visible irradiation. These include azobenzene and cinnamate derivatives, which can be incorporated into the chemical structure of surfactants. Upon irradiation, these species may isomerise or dimerise, changing the surfactant’s self-assembly behaviour and leading to changes in colour, turbidity, or viscosity. In this project we will bypass conventional synthesis, instead co-assembling photoactive species with conventional surfactants into supramolecular amphiphiles by electrostatic, H-bonding or hydrophobic interactions. Several successful model systems have been identified. Our primary tools will be small-angle neutron and X-ray scattering, which allows us to experimentally determine self-assembly structure on the nanoscale in situ and in real time as photoinduced structural changes occur. These will be correlated with macroscopic system properties in order to develop design principles for photoresponsive materials.

Additional information

Most local students in the laboratory are supported by an Australian or University Postgraduate Award. International students are supported by a variety of other scholarships. Industrially-funded projects are also available from time to time. Please contact me for further details.

HDR Inherent Requirements
In addition to the academic requirements set out in the Science Postgraduate Handbook, you may be required to satisfy a number of inherent requirements to complete this degree. Example of inherent requirement may include:

- Confidential disclosure and registration of a disability that may hinder your performance in your degree;
- Confidential disclosure of a pre-existing or current medical condition that may hinder your performance in your degree (e.g. heart disease, pace-maker, significant immune suppression, diabetes, vertigo, etc.);
- Ability to perform independently and/or with minimal supervision;
- Ability to undertake certain physical tasks (e.g. heavy lifting);
- Ability to undertake observatory, sensory and communication tasks;
- Ability to spend time at remote sites (e.g. One Tree Island, Narrabri and Camden);
- Ability to work in confined spaces or at heights;
- Ability to operate heavy machinery (e.g. farming equipment);
- Hold or acquire an Australian driver’s licence;
- Hold a current scuba diving license;
- Hold a current Working with Children Check;
- Meet initial and ongoing immunisation requirements (e.g. Q-Fever, Vaccinia virus, Hepatitis, etc.)

You must consult with your nominated supervisor regarding any identified inherent requirements before completing your application.

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Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is 2148

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