Course Identification

Soft Matter: Interactions, structure and dynamics

Lecturers and Teaching Assistants

Prof. Jacob Klein
Dr. Ran Tivony

Course Schedule and Location

First Semester
Monday, 09:15 - 11:00, FGS, Rm A

Field of Study, Course Type and Credit Points

Chemical Sciences: Lecture; Elective; Core; 3.00 points
Chemical Sciences (Materials Science Track): Lecture; Elective; Core; 3.00 points


(1) The courses that are attended by less than 4 students will be cancelled
(2) Cluster - Materials/Nano





Language of Instruction


Attendance and participation


Grade Type

Numerical (out of 100)

Grade Breakdown (in %)


Evaluation Type

Final assignment

Scheduled date 1

The final assignment will involve a 1:1 meeting and examination of each student on his/her set assignment.

Estimated Weekly Independent Workload (in hours)



Polymers, surfactants, and colloidal – nanoparticle - dispersions  are the building blocks of soft matter. Their biological counterparts: biomacromolecules, biocolloids (e.g. blood or milk) and biosurfactants such as lipids, are the building blocks of life. In this course we introduce the physical behavior of such materials, starting from the molecular level and up to bulk and interfacial properties. The course is suitable for physical chemists, physicists, and materials scientists interested in soft and biological matter, as well as for students in biological/life-sciences with an interest in the physical behaviour of biomolecules and biomaterials (e.g. molecular forces, biolubrication, cell-surface interactions etc). 
These is a particularly useful course for those interested in nano-sciences and nanotechnology, where interactions and surfaces play a major role.
  1. Basic concepts; Some unifying ideas of molecular structure, length and energy scales in polymeric and colloidal systems of synthetic and of biological origins. 
  2. Intermolecular and intersurface interactions: van der Waals forces, electrostatic effects, hydrophobic effects; Association in non-polar and in aqueous solutions. Concepts of stabilisation and aggregation in colloidal (nanoparticle) fluids.
  3. Surfactants and lipids: aggregation, bilayers, vesicles, liposomes and more complex structures
  4. Basic concepts of viscosity, friction and lubrication; Confined fluids: confinement-induced liquid-to-solid transitions; confinement of water; hydration layers
  5. Large flexible molecules: The statistical approach in polymer physics; Properties of the single polymer chain: ideal and real chains. Excluded volume effects.
  6. Thermodynamics in polymer mixtures. Scaling concepts as a simplifying description; ideality in polymer melts. Polymer gels: structure and elasticity 
  7. Dynamics of the single chain and of entangled chains. The tube model and reptation. Dynamics of non-linear chains. 
  8. Solid/liquid interfaces in colloids; Interfacial effects in polymer mixtures 
  9. Polymers near surfaces: adsorption, self similar surface structures and polymer brushes. The concept of entropic forces. Steric stabilisation of colloidal dispersions. Friction and lubrication effects with polymers 
  10. Charged polymers: polyelectrolytes and polyzwitterions; Structure, ion-condensation effects and behaviour at surfaces and interfaces. 
  11. Hydration and biological lubrication; some applications in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course students should be able to:

  1. Demonstrate a deep (quantitative) understanding of the physical basis of soft matter and biological materials from the molecular level up, in particular how molecules and surfaces interact, and how such interactions control structure and dynamics in a wide range of materials, both synthetic and naturally occurring.
  2. Read the relevant literature critically.

Reading List

The course is essentially self-contained, as there is no one book to cover the material.
Some useful recommended books that cover parts of the course:
  1. D. Tabor: Gases, liquids and solids (Cambridge Press, 3rd ed. 1995). Introduces much of the physics of particles and interactions in an easily-understood and attractive manner.
  2. J. Israelachvili, Intermolecular and Surface Forces (Academic  Press, NY, 1994). A thorough treatment of surface interactions
  3. Scaling concepts in polymer physics, P.G. de Gennes,  Cornell University Press, 2nd printing, 1985. An excellent and  readable text which covers much of the polymer part of the  course at the right level. (the 1979 edition is just as good).    
  4. Introduction to Polymer Physics, M. Doi; Oxford University   Press, 1996. A short but dense and useful text which includes good material on equilibrium properties of polymers.