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260076 VO Experimental methods in soft matter (2021S)

5.00 ECTS (3.00 SWS), SPL 26 - Physik


Note: The time of your registration within the registration period has no effect on the allocation of places (no first come, first served).


Language: German

Examination dates


Classes (iCal) - next class is marked with N

For some reason the language is indicated as German but the course will be held in English

Thursday 11.03. 09:00 - 11:15 Digital
Thursday 18.03. 09:00 - 11:15 Digital
Thursday 25.03. 09:00 - 11:15 Digital
Thursday 15.04. 09:00 - 11:15 Digital
Thursday 22.04. 09:00 - 11:15 Digital
Thursday 29.04. 09:00 - 11:15 Digital
Thursday 06.05. 09:00 - 11:15 Digital
Thursday 20.05. 09:00 - 11:15 Digital
Thursday 27.05. 09:00 - 11:15 Digital
Thursday 10.06. 09:00 - 11:15 Digital
Thursday 17.06. 09:00 - 11:15 Digital
Thursday 24.06. 09:00 - 11:15 Digital


Aims, contents and method of the course

Soft matter is a term coined roughly 40 years ago by the French scientist Madeleine Veyssié - a strict collaborator of the 1991 Nobel prize in physics PG de Gennes - to include many materials that lie somewhere in-between liquids and solids and that are easily deformed under moderate stresses. Foams, gels, creams, pastes, sludges, dense emulsions, bacterial suspensions, biofilms, membranes, cells, and tissues are just a few examples of soft materials.

As de Gennes himself said in his Nobel lecture: “Americans prefer to call it ‘complex fluids’…a rather ugly name, which tends to discourage the young students”. Soft materials are indeed complex, as they are often the result of the self-organization of basic building blocks, such as polymers, surfactants, and colloidal particles, into more hierarchically organized soft materials. However, they are not necessarily complicated to deal with: theoretically, they can be frequently captured by simple models, dimensional analysis, and scaling laws; numerically, they can be reproduced with conceptually simple tools and efficient algorithms; experimentally, they can be often investigated with unsophisticated experimental setups that reproduce spectacular phenomena and produce revealing and colorful images, movies, and plots. The young student dealing with soft matter is thus not discouraged but, on the contrary, rather excited!

In this course, we focus on the experimental side of the physics of soft matter. You will be introduced to the most important experimental techniques and approaches to poke and probe soft materials. At the end of the course, you will be able to:

- Understand the main properties and applications of the most common experimental techniques/methods to investigate soft matter
- Relate each experimental technique/method to the relevant theoretical principles
- Choose the appropriate technique and experimental approach to study a soft matter system of choice
- Plan an experiment to probe a soft matter system of your choice
- Interpret typical results of experiments on soft materials

During the course, you will learn about modern mechanical and optical techniques that are customarily used to characterized soft materials, e.g. rheology, microrheology, video particle tracking, static and dynamic light scattering, differential dynamic microscopy, diffusing wave spectroscopy, optical tweezers, microfluidics.

The course will make use of (online) lectures with slides and whiteboard. In addition, you will learn also through interactive tools (e.g. Kahoot or Mentimeter) and through other tools typical of peer education and collaborative learning (e.g. journal clubs and/or team based learning). Preparation to classroom activities will also benefit from the use of the flipped classroom approach.

Basic classical physics, including fluid mechanics, optics, thermodynamics, and statistical physics.

Assessment and permitted materials

Assessment will be conducted via oral examination (online), which allows for a comprehensive view of your knowledge/abilities and gives a unique opportunity for interaction. At the beginning of the oral exam, you will choose and briefly present one of the key papers highlighted during the course and answer questions on the paper and on the corresponding course topic. You will then be asked at least one question about at least one topic different from the chosen one.

Minimum requirements and assessment criteria

The final grade will be determined by considering both the breadth and depth of the individual learning process, in terms of acquired knowledge and abilities. Critical thinking skills will be also considered.

Examination topics

Exam topics include all the topics that are treated in the lectures. The lecture notes and the key papers are made available after each lecture on the Moodle page of the course.

Reading list

In addition to the key papers that are introduced during the course, the following books can be considered as a source of information about the course topics.

- McLeish, Tom. Soft Matter: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2020.
- Borsali, Redouane, and Robert Pecora, eds. Soft matter characterization. New York: Springer, 2008.
- Olafsen, Jeffrey, ed. Experimental and Computational Techniques in Soft Condensed Matter Physics. Cambridge University Press, 2010.
- Fernandez-Nieves, Alberto, and Antonio Manuel Puertas, eds. Fluids, colloids, and soft materials: an introduction to soft matter physics. New York: Wiley, 2016.
- Furst, Eric M., and Todd M. Squires. Microrheology. Oxford University Press, 2017.

In case of further need, other valuable sources of information are:
- Brochard-Wyart, Françoise, Pierre Nassoy, and Pierre-Henri Puech. Essentials of soft matter science. CRC Press, 2019.
- Hirst, Linda S. Fundamentals of soft matter science. CRC press, 2019.
- Doi, Masao. Soft matter physics. Oxford University Press, 2013.
- Hamley, Ian W. Introduction to soft matter: synthetic and biological self-assembling materials (revised edition). John Wiley & Sons, 2007.
- Jones, Richard Anthony Lewis, Soft condensed matter, Oxford University Press, 2002.

Association in the course directory


Last modified: Th 02.09.2021 13:28