Soft Matter

This course emphasizes the quantitative approach of physics and mathematics applied to everyday materials.

‘Soft Matter’ was a term introduced by the French Physicist Pierre de Gennes in his Nobel lecture in 1991 to describe a large class of materials that exhibit large deformation under modest forces. The range of materials that fall under soft matter consists of polymers, liquid crystals, colloids, emulsions, foams, pastes, and complex fluids formed by mixtures of water with surfactants or amphiphiles, ferrofluids, granular materials, the vast array of biological or biologically inspired materials, the new area of active fluids, and much more. 

This course emphasises a quantitative approach of physics and mathematics applied to everyday materials and provides an overview of an experiential learning of the subject through hands on projects, labs and student seminars. 

We introduce you to Molecular Forces, energies, time scales and their interdependence in the context of soft matter systems. Concrete applications of Thermal and Statistical physics such as Brownian motion, random walks, diffusion, effect of entropy, self-assembly, and phase transitions are developed with examples from polymers, surfactants, colloids and liquid crystals. Concepts in continuum mechanics such as viscosity and viscoelasticity of rubber are presented in an elementary manner for polymers. Small angle light scattering and microscopy to determine the structure of colloidal crystals, measuring the Debye screening length while salting out milk, ionic conductivity measurements to probe self-assembly in surfactant systems, visualizing and tracking Brazil nut effect in granular media, tracking the dynamics of a sedimenting sphere in a viscoelastic liquid, measuring optical birefringence of liquid crystals, determining drag force in a shear thickening liquid are some of the experiments or projects done by the students in this course.