This chapter presents a selection of highlights in the soft condensed matter field. The year 2011 was celebrated as the International Year of Chemistry commemorating the achievements of chemistry and its contributions to mankind. As if tuned to this special occasion, this time there are more highlight articles related to chemistry than other disciplines. Similar to last year, some articles have strong emphasis on the complementary techniques.

The first article by Zeng et al. illustrates the beauty of soft matter, in this case the ability of X-shaped liquid crystal molecules to overcome geometrical and compositional frustrations by forming complex periodic honeycomb structures. These intriguing molecules may even form a dodecagonal quasicrystalline honeycomb analogous to quasicrystals, for the discovery of which this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Professor Shechtman. Metal-organic frameworks are another novel class of crystalline materials involving complex self-assembly. The article by Cravillon et al. reports the nucleation and growth of these nanocrystals and finds important differences from the classical nucleation process. Hybrid organic-inorganic composite materials are involved in many practical applications. Balmer et al. present the dynamics of adsorption and distribution of small silica particles on large polymer latex particles to form remarkably well defined hybrid core-shell morphology. Molecular chirality is the foundation of stereochemistry. Rosenthal et al. explored a higher level of chirality in semi-crystalline polyethylene emanating from the twist of the lamellar stacking. In the following article, Sanyal et al. report on an in situ crystallisation study of a polymer-fullerene blend, a composite material with promising applications. Their results reveal details of the development of the heterojunction that determines the efficiency of power conversion in their potential application in polymer solar cells.

Turning to biologically relevant examples, Ghosh et al. investigated the structure and interaction of synaptic vesicles with lipid membranes revealing a collective reorganisation of the monolayer upon site selective binding of these protein-rich vesicles. To shed more light on the photosynthetic reaction centers, Wohri et al. probed the conformational changes in tyrosine residues from a bacterial photosynthetic reaction center following photoactivation. The structural changes observed were interpreted in terms of complementary electron-proton transfer reactions in which excess positive charge following the primary electron transfer induces a proton transfer in the opposite direction.

Complementary techniques are often vital in reaching a better understanding of the results from scattering experiments. The article by Ramachandran et al. demonstrates how a combination of time-resolved scattering, nuclear magnetic resonance and double electron-electron resonance spectroscopy captures short-lived transient intermediate states in photoactive yellow protein in solution. Using complementary electron microscopy, spectroscopy and micro diffraction, Hauser et al. report on different steps in the self-assembly of a very small peptide to fibrous structures similar to those involved in Alzheimers and other degenerative diseases. Finally, Martinez et al. revisit the dynamics of the concentrated hard-sphere colloidal suspensions, first by establishing the equivalence of the results from dynamic light and X-ray scattering experiments, and then reviving the longstanding debate on the scaling of the short-time and long-time diffusion coefficients.

Indeed, as in previous years, this chapter contains only a selective sub-set of many interesting results published during the year and obviously there are many omissions due to lack of space. To mention but a few, the work of Reconditi et al. [PNAS 108, 7236 (2011)] on the pathways of skeletal muscle cell activation, and Czakkel and Madsen on the non-equilibrium dynamics of cross-linked polymer gel formation [EPL 95, 28001 (2011)].

Among the technical developments, beamline ID10 is undergoing a major refurbishment and it will no longer be Troika. The new shared beamline “Soft Interfaces and Coherent Scattering Beamline” will be open to users soon after the restart of the ESRF in May 2012. The technical design report for UPBL9a (ID02) has been completed and the upgrade is due to begin in mid 2013. The technical design report for UPBL9b (ID09 Time-Resolved) is in preparation. Finally, the formal collaboration contract for the Partnership for Soft Condensed Matter is nearing completion and full-scale activities are expected to take-off at the end of 2013 when the new science building becomes available.


T. Narayanan