Susan Perkin

2023 United Kingdom Award Winner — Faculty

Susan Perkin

Current Position:
Professor of Physical Chemistry

University of Oxford

Physical Chemistry

Recognized for: Experimental observations using a custom-built instrument—the Surface Force Balance—to determine the mechanical, optical, electrostatic, and dynamic properties of fluids, revealing important information about liquids ranging from battery electrolytes to cytosols.

Areas of Research Interest and Expertise: Physical Chemistry, Electrolytes, Physical Chemistry, Interaction Forces

Previous Positions:

MChem, University of Oxford, UK
DPhil, University of Oxford, UK
Junior Research Fellow, University of Oxford, UK
RCUK Academic Fellow, University College London, UK

Research Summary: Fluids can exhibit diverse properties depending upon their chemical composition. When charged particles—ions—are dissolved and free to move in a fluid this is often referred to as an electrolyte. Seawater, biological cytosol, and batteries are examples of electrolytic solutions that exhibit different behavior depending upon the concentration and chemical makeup of the electrolytes in solution. While the behavior of dilute solutions is well-defined and predictable, more concentrated solutions have historically been much more difficult to study. This is an important problem to solve because many of the electrolyte solutions of interest to modern science and technology, such as in batteries, are at very high concentration.

Susan Perkin, DPhil, has developed a custom instrument that enables the study of liquid matter, soft matter, and ionic liquids and their interactions with surfaces that is causing a paradigm shift in the manner in which scientists describe fluids and fluid-like substances. Specifically, Perkin uses an instrument called a Surface Force Balance (SFB) to study the mechanical, optical, electrostatic and dynamic properties of fluids. In particular, she has focused her efforts on understanding the complex interactions of concentrated solutions of electrolytes at the molecular level. Using the SFB to probe deep into very concentrated electrolytic solutions, measuring their properties and molecular interactions at the nanoscale, she has uncovered new information about biomolecular interactions and about energy storage in devices such as batteries and supercapacitors, where ionic interactions near liquid-solid interfaces are crucially important.

"I was amazed and delighted to hear the news of this wonderful award. I look forward to the opportunity it will bring to share my fascination with the microscopic interactions and processes that determine properties of materials all around us."

Key Publications: 

  1. A.M. Smith, A.A. Lee, S. Perkin. The Electrostatic Screening Length in Concentrated Electrolytes Increases with Concentration. J. Phys. Chem. Lett. 2016.
  2. A.A. Lee, C.S. Perez-Martinez, A.M. Smith, S. Perkin. Scaling Analysis of the Screening Length in Concentrated Electrolytes. Phys. Rev. Lett. 2017.
  3. A.M. Smith, A.A. Lee, S. Perkin. Switching the Structural Force in Ionic Liquid-solvent Mixtures by Varying Composition. Phys. Rev. Lett. 2017.
  4. A.M. Smith, J.E. Hallett, S. Perkin.Solidification and Superlubricity with Molecular Alkane Films. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 2019.

Other Honors: 

2021 Consolidator Grant, European Research Council
2018 Soft Matter Leadership Award, Royal Society of Chemistry
2016 Philip Leverhulme Prize, The Leverhulme Trust
2016 Harrison-Meldola Prize, Royal Society of Chemistry
2015 Starting Grant, European Research Council