Course Identification

Soft matter: self-assembly in biopolymers

Lecturers and Teaching Assistants

Dr. Ulyana Shimanovich
Ori Brookstein

Course Schedule and Location

Second Semester
Wednesday, 11:15 - 13:00, Perlman, Rm 404

Field of Study, Course Type and Credit Points

Chemical Sciences: Lecture; Elective; Regular; 2.00 points
Chemical Sciences (Materials Science Track): Lecture; Elective; Regular; 2.00 points







Language of Instruction


Attendance and participation

Required in at least 80% of the lectures

Grade Type

Numerical (out of 100)

Grade Breakdown (in %)

participation in discussions

Evaluation Type

Final assignment

Scheduled date 1


Estimated Weekly Independent Workload (in hours)



Soft matter: self-assembly in biopolymers


Soft matter deals with understanding the function and principles behind a large group of materials that are easily deformed and continuously reform. Those materials are what all living things are made of, and their behavior is responsible for the complex machinery of life. One of the hallmarks of bimolecular soft matter is the spontaneous formation of complex structures made of small building blocks, in a process termed self-assembly. It holds great potential due to its ability to form supramolecular systems with programmed structures and properties, such as gels, colloids, emulsions, foams, surfactant assemblies and liquid crystals. Due to a wide range of physical phenomena’s, complex systems and materials, soft matter is an interdisciplinary field that brings together physics, chemistry, materials science, biology, nanotechnology, and engineering. 

This course is focused on the self-assembly phenomenon in bio-polymers, lipids, polysaccharides, polynucleic acids, proteins, peptides, and their supramolecular structures. It introduces basic concepts of soft matter materials and the phenomena’s that governs self-assembling behavior.  

The course is particularly suitable for biophysicists, chemists, biochemists and materials scientists interested in soft and biological matter and nanoscience.  


List of topics: 

  1. Biopolymers: Building blocks of natural polymers such as polypeptides, polysaccharides and poly-nucleic-acids. Molecular structure, length scales, energetic levels and structural units. 
  2. Mechanisms of biopolymer self-assembly: kinetics, dynamics, inter- and intramolecular interactions, energies. 
  3. Role of interfacial properties and solid-liquid interfaces in biopolymer assemblies. 
  4. Phase transition and phase separation: basic concepts and Thermodynamics. 
  5. Flow and viscoelasticity: viscosity, Newtonian fluids, shear-flow behavior, Elastic and Plastic modulus. 
  6. Gels and gelation: Types of gels, physical and chemical gels, cross-linking techniques ,characterization. 
  7. Emulsions, surfactants and lipids: types of emulsions and aggregations, formation mechanisms, Phase separation. 
  8. Mass transfer and diffusion: concept of mass transfer, mechanism and models 
  9. Thermal energy: Heat and energy transfer mechanisms and Thermodynamics. 
  10. Technological approaches to control self-assembly in biopolymers.  
  11. Techniques for characterization of self-assembly systems.   
  12. Applications in nanotechnology and biomedicine. 

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of the course, students should be able to: 

  1. Understand the structural parameters and chemical properties of "natural" building blocks. 
  2. To be familiar with basic concepts and terms in biomolecular soft matter and principles of self-assembling materials. 
  3. Understand structure-function relationship in self-assembling systems. 
  4. Understand physical and chemical phenomenon that shapes material properties in soft matter. 
  5. To know how Nature utilises self-assembly phenomenon to form materials with different diverse properties. 
  6. Know common technique for fabrication of biomaterials. 


Reading List