Soft Matter Emerging Investigator – Lauren Zarzar

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Lauren earned a B.A. in chemistry and a B.S. in economics from the University of Pennsylvania, a Ph.D. in chemistry from Harvard University, and completed a postdoc at MIT. Currently, she is an assistant professor at Penn State with appointments in the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. Her group’s research interests include the study of responsive systems, active matter, tunable optical materials, and laser direct writing of nanomaterials. She can be found on Twitter @laurenzarzar.


Read Lauren’s Emerging Investigator article “Interfacially-adsorbed particles enhance the self-propulsion of oil droplets in aqueous surfactant” and check out all of the 2021 Soft Matter Emerging Investigator articles here.


How do you feel about Soft Matter as a place to publish research on this topic?

Soft Matter is a great journal to publish and follow exciting research in areas such as a colloids, polymers, emulsions, and soft interfaces.

What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment and what do you find most challenging about your research?

Right now I am excited to understand how to control the motion and interactions between out-of-equilibrium materials such as droplets by using chemical gradients. A challenge is that many of the driving forces (like the chemical gradients, the local interfacial tensions) are very difficult to directly measure or visualize on the microscale. We often have to make inferences based on the observed behaviors and trends we find when doing systematic studies.

In your opinion, what are the most important questions to be asked/answered in this field of research?

Living systems are all out of equilibrium, making them highly adaptive. Yet, as chemists, we are very used to thinking about reactions proceeding to an equilibrium state. How do we design chemical systems that can be continuously driven and persist in different non-equilibrium states for long time periods?

Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?

Don’t be afraid to dive into unfamiliar research fields; you don’t have to be an expert to discover something exciting and make an impact.

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