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14 december 2018

Approved Industrial Partnership Programme

Title Hybrid soft materials: from physical mechanisms to designer products (HSM)
Executive organisational unit
Programme management Prof.dr. G.H. Koenderink
Duration 2015-2019
Cost estimate M€ 4.4
Partner(s) NWO-ALW, Unilever, TKI Agri & Food

The aim of this programme is to understand the physics of the assembly and visco-elastic properties of hybrid networks, consisting of mixtures of stiff and soft elements, which leads to the rich and complex multiscale physics that characterize real food products. The central design concept of hybrid networks is inspired by physical principles discovered in nature, and is expected to lead to rich emergent phenomena such as enhanced stiffness, water-holding capacity, and more tunable mechanics. The understanding of the design principles and the relation between the molecular, microscopic and mechanical properties of hybrid networks will be used in the design of new, improved systems, in particular new food products.

Background, relevance and implementation
The structure of consumer products like foods and personal care products is generally crucial for determining their rheological properties, which in turn determine the consumer relevant attributes during use. Key attributes include physical appearance, shape, hardness, and in-use functionality, such as nutrition and pleasure for foods, or cleaning and hygiene for personal care products.
A detailed fundamental understanding of the physics governing the relation between ingredients and processing conditions with the final structure, texture and other physical properties, across the scales from the molecular scale to the bulk product, is of critical importance to the consumer goods industry and at the same time poses fundamental problems in the physics of complex systems.
Any manufactured consumer product also needs to be understood at different time scales. Processing typically happens in minutes to create a desired micro-structure under complex kinetic conditions in the factory. Then the product often has to be stable quiescently for up to a year in storage. Lastly the product has to fulfil its in-use functionality with the consumer, where the designed micro-structure is often modified in complex ways by the consumer interaction.
Engineering such complexity is non-trivial, and requires a deep understanding of the physics driving the structure-function relationships and the use of sophisticated characterization techniques across a wide range of material length and time scales.

A programme committee consisting of the programme leader, one representative of each of the participating academic institutions, and one representative of Unilever. Meetings of the programme committee will take place at each of the six-monthly progress meetings. Proposals for changes in the programme content and/or budget have to be granted by the steering committee. The chair of the programme committee acts as the programme leader. The final evaluation of this programme will consist of a self-evaluation initiated by the programme leader and is foreseen in 2019.