Soft Matter Physics


The UL M.Sc. level course on Soft Matter Physics is split in two sections. A soft matter theory course is given by Dr. Alexei Boulbitch, while an experimental/applied soft matter physics course is given by Prof. Jan Lagerwall as lecturer, with Dr. Venkata Subbarao Jampani and Dr. Yong Geng sharing the exercise class. This is the web site for the experimental course.

Soft condensed matter is the term used for the large number of materials that fall between the classic definitions of solid and liquid states, encountered for instance in biomaterials, foods and in numerous functional materials—manmade as well as natural—that play key roles in our lives. We will introduce the defining characteristics and unique properties of soft matter in general and discuss the key interactions, primarily hydrogen bonding, van der Waals attraction and the hydrophobic effect. We will gradually set up the theoretical framework required for a thorough understanding of soft matter physics, e.g. Poisson-Boltzmann theory for ionic solutions, DLVO theory for colloidal suspensions, Landau theories for phase transitions, nematic and membrane elasticity and topological defects, and the response to external influences such as electric, magnetic or mechanic force fields. In parallel with this foundation building, the various subclasses of soft matter—e.g. colloids, gels and glasses, liquid crystals, rubbers, polymer melts and solutions, biomaterials, and granular matter—will be discussed in some detail, covering their unique physics as well as their typical applications, in technology and in nature. Self-assembly and the different processes involved constitute a recurring theme throughout the course. We will for instance discuss the nano- and microstructures that can arise via self-assembly of amphiphiles, DNA, proteins or nanorods, -discs and -tubes. Relevant characterization techniques will also be briefly described. The experimental course has its main emphasis on liquid crystals, with liquid colloids being a strong secondary focus.

Main course book

Course structure
The experimental course is structured around seven topics, as follows:

  1. Definition of soft matter, self-assembly and the key interaction mechanisms: van der Waals attraction, steric repulsion, hydrogen bonding and the hydrophobic effect.
  2. Colloids and their stabilization; gels and glasses
  3. Liquid crystals, lyotropic and thermotropic, low molar mass and polymeric.
  4. Self-assembly in polymeric soft matter.
  5. Key characterization techniques in soft matter physics
  6. Biological soft matter

The detailed syllabus can be downloaded here and a list of the learning objectives is found here.

The slides shown in the lectures can be downloaded as pdf files (after each class) here (only for registered students).

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