Waitukaitis Group

Soft and Complex Materials

The Waitukaitis Group is an experimental physics lab whose research focuses on complex phenomena that arise via exotic interactions between liquids and solids. Their work is highly interdisciplinary, sitting at the intersection of soft matter physics, materials science, complex fluids, and chemistry. Under this general umbrella, their lab addresses a variety of distinct topics ranging from the nanoscale to the macroscale and involving experimental techniques ranging from atomic force microscopy to high-speed imaging.

An example at the smallest scale is the phenomenon of tribocharging – the exchange of electrical charge between objects during contact. Although well-known to anyone who has been shocked by a doorknob and described scientifically going back as far as ancient Greece, the underlying mechanism for tribocharging remains mysterious. They are particularly interested in same-material tribocharging, which counterintuitively occurs when identical materials are brought into contact. Recent results suggest that this puzzling phenomenon might result from the stochastic deposition of nanoscale islands of water on the material surface. Using atomic force microscopy to characterize surfaces and cutting-edge techniques to measure charge exchange, a major goal is to validate or nullify this hypothesis and help resolve this millennia-old mystery.

At larger scales, they are interested in the non-Newtonian dynamics that arise when colloidal-sized solid particles are suspended in liquids.  Perhaps the most well-known example is a dense mixture of cornstarch particles in water, which behaves liquid-like when perturbed gently but solid-like when vigorously agitated.  Previous work has centered on passive non-Newtonian suspensions such as this, but moving forward their lab will focus on smart colloidal suspensions filled with particles that can be controlled by environmental stimuli.  Their long-term goal in this direction is to achieve a level of spatiotemporal control that allows us to design and build metafluids – liquids whose material properties can be changed on command.

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Current Projects

Mesoscale charging statistics with acoustic levitation | Macro-charging of oxide nanolayers on soft polymer substrates

Open Positions

The Waitukaitis Group currently has 2 openings for paid internships, ideally starting winter or early spring 2021.

The first project will involve using an AFM in KPFM mode to determine the amount and spatial distribution of charge on surfaces after contact electrification. A physics background is required, with strengths in electromagnetics, math methods, and computer programming (e.g. python).

The second project will involve building and testing an experimental apparatus to measure macroscopic charge exchange between spin-coated polymers. This project will require the student to make designs in CAD, work in close cooperation with our machine and electronics shops, and build an automation interface to control the system in python or labview. A strong background in physics is preferred, but mechanical or electrical engineering backgrounds will also be considered.  

In both positions, persons from underrepresented groups are highly encouraged to apply. Special consideration will be given to applicants looking to fulfilling research requirements for a Master’s thesis at their home institution, or those interested in eventually pursuing PhD. 

Interested candidates should send a cover letter (1 page), university transcripts, and CV to Michaela Pucher(michaela.pucher@ist.ac.at) no later than Jan 1. The intended duration of both internships is minimum 6 months and maximum 12 months. The working language will be English. 

More information about the research topics and the lab can be found at the Group’s website:  https://waitukaitis.pages.ist.ac.at/.


Grosjean GM, Wald S, Sobarzo Ponce JCA, Waitukaitis SR. 2020. Quantitatively consistent scale-spanning model for same-material tribocharging. Physical Review Materials. 4(8), 082602. View

Collard Y, Grosjean GM, Vandewalle N. 2020. Magnetically powered metachronal waves induce locomotion in self-assemblies. Communications Physics. 3, 112. View

Khattak HK, Waitukaitis SR, Slepkov AD. 2019. Microwave induced mechanical activation of hydrogel dimers. Soft Matter. 15(29), 5804–5809. View

View All Publications


Since 2019 Assistant Professor, IST Austria
2016-2018 Veni Fellow and postdoctoral scholar at AMOLF, Amsterdam NL
2013-2016 Postdoctoral Scholar at Leiden University, Leiden NL
2007-2013 Ph.D. in physics at the University of Chicago, Chicago USA

Selected Distinctions

2020 ERC Starting Grant
2018 NNV Fysica Young Speakers Award
2018 Block Prize for Outstanding Young Researcher
2016-present Veni Research Grant from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research
2014 The Springer Thesis Award, Springer Publishing
2012 The Bruce Winstein Prize for Instrumentation
2010-2013 Robert A. Millikan Fellowship

Additional Information

Download CV

Waitukaitis Group website

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