Advanced Soft Matter (PCC-31806)

This course is about materials that are neither solid, nor liquid – they are somewhere in between. Examples of such materials can be found everywhere around us: food products, soaps, gels, paints, and almost all biological materials.

Characteristic for these materials is that their structure and dynamics at the microscale are dominated by thermal fluctuations. In this course we will show how the balance between these thermal fluctuations and the interactions between molecules can lead to complex structures and mechanical properties at a larger scale. Topics include: biopolymers, gels, liquid crystals, polyelectrolytes, phase separation, rheology, and interfacial phenomena, such as surface tension, wetting, adsorption, emulsions and capillary effects. 

The importance of the general concepts for biological systems will be illustrated (e.g. the behavior of DNA, the properties of protein filaments in the cell cytoskeleton and the mechanical behavior of living cells), as well as the relevance for practical areas such as food science or nanotechnology.

The course is a follow-up of Colloid Science and prepares for a thesis in our department. The course consists of lectures, tutorials, and a small experimental research project, in which the students work in couples on a topic that is closely related to the research in the department. Go to examples of previous research projects to get an idea of possible topics you could work on during this course.

The course will be taught in the 1st period.



  • Surface tension
  • wetting and spreading: films, droplets, super-hydrophobic surfaces (Lotus effect)
  • capillary effects: capillary rise, capillary adhesion, capillary instability, nucleation, foam and emulsion stability
  • adsorption, surfactants (effect on surface tension, detergency, foams and emulsions)


  • Polymer conformations; coil-globule transition; elasticity of DNA
  • Polymer solutions and phase separation
  • Gels and networks: gelation, elasticity, swelling of gels
  • Rheology
  • Dynamics of polymers: molecular motion, entanglements (reptation)
  • Polymers in living cells: cytoskeleton; cell mechanics; movement in the cell
  • Nanotechnology: life at the small scale