Benjamin Widom at Cornell University is supported by the Theoretical and Computational Chemistry Program to pursue research on the theory of fluids, phase transitions and interfaces. He will extend the understanding of interfacial tensions in binary fluids, continue efforts in the area of hydrophobicity, and investigate the interfaces of phase-separated solutions consisting of two polymers and a solvent. His theoretical approach relies on classical density-functional theory coupled with statistical mechanical and thermodynamical analyses. Progress in this field is both timely and difficult due to the complicated interactions between atomistically large solute molecules and the solvent. Work in this area is important to the understanding of biological processes and has proved to be useful in environmentally friendly methods for oil recovery.
This project will determine the conditions needed for two disparate polymers to mix together or separate into two liquids. Such an understanding is necessary for developing strategies for environmentally friendly means for oil recovery. Understanding the mechanisms and manifestations associated with the repulsion between polymers and water (e.g., hydrophobicity) will yield key insights and identify important questions in the emerging field of computational biology. In particular, hydrophobic forces are primarily responsible for protein folding.