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Soft Condensed Matter and Biophysics

Gareth Alexander, Robin Ball, Vasily Kantsler, Marco Polin, Rudolf Römer, Matthew Turner

Soft matter physics is concerned with the behaviour and properties of polymers, rubbers, liquid crystals, colloidal suspensions, emulsions, gels, membranes, proteins, textiles and all other materials that are neither crystalline solids nor essentially electronic. These are materials that we encounter in our daily lives in plastics, soaps and shampoos, and our ever-present electronic devices. Their study brings together concepts from statistical mechanics to microfluidics and from chemical synthesis to algebraic topology.

In recent years, the physics of life, i.e. biological systems and materials, which are usually soft, has become a leading area of research. This includes cellular processes, tissue mechanics and growth, as well as motility of algae, bacteria, flocks and swarms. Living systems are highly complex and are usually kept far from equilibrium by the natural activities of life. Living organisms respond and adapt to their environment and regulate their motion, size, shape and even topology. All of these pose fascinating challenges for research at the interface of physics with the life sciences.

Soft matter physics came to prominence as a subject in its own right due largely to the influence of Pierre Gilles de Gennes (Nobel Prize 1991) and Sir Sam Edwards, starting (loosely) in the late 1960s. It is a relatively young field and one that is vibrant and inherently interdisciplinary, connecting physics with biology, chemistry, and both pure and applied mathematics. We believe it is the most exciting frontier of modern physics!

For further reading try starting with P. G. de Gennes’ Nobel Prize Lecture or see group members' individual pages for details of current research activities.

softbio

From left to right: Soliton on a soap film; Hopf texture in liquid crystals; Topological glass in ring polymers; Particle entrainment by swimming C. reinhardtii