The main expertise of Sokolov’s group is molecular motions in liquids, solids, polymers and biological systems. Molecular motions are the key to many macroscopic properties of soft materials and their understanding is critical for design of novel smart materials for future technologies.
For example, some frogs can be frozen in ice, but when spring comes, the ice melts and they are still alive. “Nature has already designed a mechanism for preservation,” says Alexei Sokolov, a physicist trying to take nature’s wisdom and apply it to his work with materials.
Part of his materials research could be applied to biotechnologies, such as preserving vaccines, tissues and organs for transplants. In order to do that, he and a team of researchers are working on suppressing or freezing molecular motions in the way that will keep the biological systems alive.
As a kid, Sokolov knew he wanted to be a scientist and develop completely new concepts that may work one day in novel technologies. Right now, he’s trying to do what a textbook says is impossible. He’s trying to manipulate the characteristics of polymers so that ions move as fast in plastics as they do in liquids. Such technology could be applied to building a battery for an electric car that can run for 300 miles without recharge.
He uses light scattering, neutron scattering, and dielectric spectroscopy to measure and characterize how molecules are moving in a given material.