Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering

University of Rhode Island

Research Focuses

Complex Fluids

Complex fluids are a wide class of materials that flow like liquids but have finite structures. Common examples are oil/water emulsions or polymers dissolved in solvents, which exhibit fascinating and useful properties. We study these fluids to understand how their structure on the nanoscale affect their bulk properties.

Schematic of polymer grafted nanoparticles dispersed in a polymeric matrix


Nanocomposites are materials comprised of nanoparticles dispersed in a polymeric matrix and exhibit enhanced mechanical, electrical, and optical properties. We aim to understand the changes happening on the nanoscale when particles and polymers are mixed to understand these enhanced properties.

Atomic force microscopy image of polymer-grafted nanoparticles

Polymer Physics

We investigate how polymers deform and move near surfaces. Understanding their structure and dynamics will allow us to design and develop novel materials with enhanced properties.

Schematic showing confined relaxations of grafted polymer

Transport Processes

Many applications require particles or other species to be delivered to a specific location, often through a crowded or complex material. We study how to control this delivery process by tuning the size and shape of the particles in relation to the surrounding fluid.

Schematic showing viral nanoparticles flowing through and attaching to a porous lateral flow assay

Recent Publications

Correlation of droplet elasticity and volume fraction effects on emulsion dynamics

Accepted: February 13, 2020

R. Poling-Skutvik, X. Di, C. O. Osuji. Soft Matter. 2020, Just Accepted.

In suspensions of incompressible droplets with thermally tunable softness, droplet dynamics are independently controlled by both volume fraction and temperature.

Shaping and locomotion of soft robots using filament actuators made from liquid crystal elastomer-carbon nanotube composites

J. Liu*, Y. Gao*, H. Wang, R. Poling-Skutvik,  C. O. Osuji, S. Yang. Adv. Intell. Syst2020, 1900163.

Taken the inspiration from the natural musculoskeletal systems, a facial fabrication approach to obtain meter long liquid crystal elastomer composite filaments as soft robots is developed. The carbon nanotubes in the composite greatly enhance the mechanical property, work capacity and actuation speed of filaments. The photo and electrical responsiveness of filaments allow for integration into multiple intelligent systems to trigger locomotion.

Accepted: January 09, 2020

Techniques and Skills

Neutron Scattering

Neutron scattering is an extremely powerful technique to probe the structure and dynamics of soft materials. Specifically, we use neutron spin echo spectroscopy (NSE) to study dynamics and small-angle neutron scattering (SANS) to study structure, with experience at both NIST and ORNL neutron sources.

Scattering pattern of polymer in presence of contrast-matched silica nanoparticles

X-Ray Scattering

X-rays are highly sensitive and intense. Using lab-scale and synchrotron sources at Argonne National Lab, we probe the structure and dynamics of many materials, often complementing neutron scattering data. With x-rays we can connect the physics on a nanoscale to the bulk material properties.

Scattering pattern of silica nanoparticles with long-range electrostatic interactions

Optical Microscopy

Optical microscopy gives invaluable information about the behavior of individual particles. Using particle tracking algorithms, we can quickly and directly measure the dynamics of particles to understand transport mechanisms or bulk mechanical properties.

Silica model of porous media used in collaboration with Martin Fernø to study oil recovery

Differential Dynamic Microscopy

Differential dynamic microscopy (DDM) combines the benefits of scattering with those of optical microscopy. With this technique, we can probe the dynamics of materials below the optical resolution of a microscope or in concentrated suspensions, where particle tracking is difficult.

Series of image differences of M13 filamentous bacteriophage diffusing in a polymer solution


Rheology is the study of how materials respond to stresses and deformations. To probe these mechanical properties, we use standard rheometers as well as microrheology techniques, which relate the motion of particles to the bulk material properties.

Polymer synthesis

The ability to synthesize our own polymers allows us to tailor their morphology to study specific properties. We use atom-transfer radical polymerization (ATRP) and anionic polymerization to prepare polymers with narrow molecular weight distributions and graft them to surfaces.

Schematic of polymer grafted nanoparticles dispersed in semidilute polymer solutions.

Conferences and Presentations


May 31, 2019

University of Pennsylvania Polymer Symposium

Philadelphia, PA

I presented an invited student talk at the 4th Annual Penn Polymer Symposium detailing some recent work on the dynamics of polymer-grafted nanoparticles in polymer solutions. This work was conducted near the end of my Ph.D. research. The presentation continued into some exciting preliminary results on the  

March 5-9, 2018


Los Angeles, CA

At the APS March Meeting in Los Angeles, I was selected to present my research investigating the confined dynamics of grafted polymer chains (F55.07, Presentation) in the Frank J. Padden Jr. Award Award Symposium for excellence in polymer physics research. My colleague, Ryan C. Roberts, also presented our work detailing investigations of tracer dynamics through colloidal glassy liquids (R53.04).

June 10-13, 2018


State College, PA

I presented a talk in the Directed Assembly of Molecules and Particles session on our recent work investigating how to produce three-dimensional porous nanomaterials simply and controllably using semidilute polymer solutions (Talk #352, Presentation). This presentation described work recently published in ACS Applied Nanomaterials. My colleague, Maxwell Smith, also presented a poster describing our research on the transport of anisotropic viral nanoparticles through complex materials (# 196).