"The scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful, it would not be worth knowing, and if nature were not worth knowing, life would not be worth living. "
Henri Poincaré (1854 - 1912)
The ancient Greeks, quite ingeniously, realised that all materials and their (now known as macroscopic) properties, including life itself, are due to a limited number of tiny, constantly moving building blocks and the connections (now called interactions) between these blocks. Receiving both scientific and non-scientific opposition, the idea faded and, despite some renaissance of atomistic ideas in the 17-19th centuries, it still took more than two thousand years, until the time of Einstein, for the idea of microscopic building blocks to be fully accepted. These ideas, begun during the golden age of physics in the 20th century, have led to a comprehensive understanding of such states of matter as gases and solids, which in turn have completely revolutionised everyday life in the developed world by introducing technological wonders such as modern cars, air traffic, semiconductor chips for computers and nuclear power. Another state of matter, fluids, appeared to be much more difficult to tackle, even in the case of simple liquids like liquid argon, a research favourite in the field. Legend tells that Lev D. Landau, Physics Nobel Laureate, was said to have commented that there could be no theoretical physics of liquids, as they have no small parameters. Nonetheless, as the 20th century advanced, it also became possible to treat even this most slippery of subjects due, in part, to the introduction of computers and the development of computer simulation methods like molecular dynamics. The 20th century brought yet another revolution: the industrial production of novel classes of materials, which simply did not exist before. For instance, almost every aspect of our everyday life would change immeasurably if plastics should disappear and life would turn "blind", "deaf" and rather miserable without liquid crystals for computer screens or mobile phones. Such new materials were given the name complex fluids, and their building blocks are not simply atoms or small molecules, but include block copolymers, surfactants, amphiphiles, colloids, liquid crystals, biomacromolecules, such as proteins and DNA, and various composites of the above. Complex fluids possess features of both fluids (for instance, they can flow) and solids (they can have an internal structure often with various well resolved symmetry groups). These structures have a characteristic scale for their building blocks which is in the range of nanometers to microns, but the building blocks can be made (synthesised) with various degrees of complexity, so more than one size scale can be involved. Some structures can be formed spontaneously from a homogeneous mixture of the building blocks, a process referred to as self-assembly, which can be hierarchical and occur on various time scales depending on the complexity of the building blocks. Self-assembly is related to self-organization, which makes complex fluids similar to living matter, so they can serve as model systems for biological systems and bioinspired materials. In the last decades of the 20th century the term complex fluids started to be substituted by a more general one that is better suited to the overall concept of condensed matter: soft matter. The transition between millennia was marked by a burst of soft matter research, due, in part, to the fact that computers had then reached a level of power allowing the simulation of experimental size systems, thus enabling the very first "virtual experiments" of such complex systems to be performed. This development made the links between theory and experiment truly symbiotic.
Nanostructured soft materials, even apart from future technological perspectives beyond our imagination, are fascinating and beautiful. This research field is growing so fast that there has been no single book that provided an overview of the many different perspectives on both fundamental concepts and recent advances in the field. A group of very enthusiastic contributors has now filled this gap; and the present book is the first comprehensive monograph on nanostructured soft matter. It covers materials ranging in size from short amphiphilic molecules to block copolymers to proteins and also discusses colloids, hybrids, microemulsions and bio-inspired materials such as vesicles. Each chapter is written by active world-class researchers in the field who offer the reader an interdisciplinary view from differing perspectives. They combine the experimental approaches of Chemistry and Physics, e.g. scattering techniques, electron and Atomic Force microscopy, with various Theoretical Physics, Mathematics and advanced computer modelling methods. We hope the book will be useful for both active and starting researchers as well as for undergraduate students; or, citing one of the anonymous referees of the original proposal for this book: "There is something for everyone in this book and it would represent a very useful text for those both operating at the forefront of nano-science and those entering the field ..."
I wish to thank the publishers at Canopus for assistance in the production of this book. I also thank Drs. R. McCabe, S. V. Kuzmin and N. Kiriushcheva. My editorial effort is dedicated to Prof. A. V. Zatovsky (1942-2006), who first introduced me to the wonders of Soft Matter.
Preston, Lancashire, January 2007