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2010/1 Module Catalogue
 Module Code: PHY3032 Module Title: SOFT MATTER
Module Provider: Physics Short Name: PH3-SM
Level: HE3 Module Co-ordinator: KEDDIE JL Prof (Physics)
Number of credits: 10 Number of ECTS credits: 5
Module Availability

Module Availability:


Semester 1


Assessment Pattern

Unit(s) of Assessment


Weighting Towards Module Mark( %)


End-of-Semester Examination




Qualifying Condition(s) 


University general regulations refer.


Module Overview

Soft matter is a fast-growing field of physics that concerns the structure and properties of substances in which weak molecular interactions and thermal motion are important.  The subject concerns polymers, colloids, gels and structured liquids, and it has relevance to nanotechnology and biology.  This module introduces this important subject and thus complements previous Level HE2 study of solid state physics (in which strong covalent bonds are dominant) and thermal physics.





Module Aims

·                To describe and to classify the various types of intermolecular forces in soft condensed matter with emphasis on van der Waals' interactions.


·                To explain the relevance of time scales in soft matter and their relation to the glass transition and viscoelasticity.


·                To define colloids and to explain what determines their stability and shear response.


·                To define and classify polymers according to structure (e.g. copolymers, biopolymers) and properties (e.g. glasses and elastomers) and to describe their properties with emphasis on their mechanical response.


·                To show how principles of thermodynamics can explain self-assembly and ordering in soft matter systems.


Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of this module, students should be familiar with the main types of soft matter, i.e. liquid crystals, colloids and polymers (glasses, elastomers, solutions, and melts).  They should be able to explain how thermodynamics influences the structure of soft matter and can promote self-assembly.  They should be able to relate macroscopic properties to microscopic structure and dynamics.  In addition to being familiar with qualitative concepts, they should be able solve problems in soft condensed matter through the application of theory, especially the use of statistical physics.


Module Content

20 hours of lectures will introduce the fundamental concepts of soft matter:


· Characteristics of soft matter; interaction potentials;


· Polar molecules; polarisability; van der Waals interactions;


· Cohesive energy; molecular crystals; response to mechanical stress;


· Time scales in soft matter; rheology; the glass transition


· Structure of glasses, liquids and liquid crystals


· Colloids; Brownian motion; viscosity of colloids and Peclet number


· Van der Waals' interactions; Hamaker constant;


· Types of polymers and chain conformation of polymers;


· Phase separation in polymers (applying statistical physics); self-assembly of copolymers;


· Rubber elasticity; reptation theory, polymer viscosity and diffusion.


Methods of Teaching/Learning

24 hours of lecture classes; five problem sets and end-of-semester tutorial.


Selected Texts/Journals

Recommended Text:


i.                RAL Jones, Soft Condensed Matter Physics, Oxford University Press



Additional texts:


i.                G Strobl, Polymer Physics, Springer


ii.              J Israelachvili, Intermolecular and Surface Forces, Academic Press


Last Updated

August 2010.