Soft Matter Theory and Simulation

Our group uses computer simulations, high-performance computing, and analytical concepts to study soft condensed matter. We develop our own software and have an emphasis on research software engineering.

Soft matter is an interdisciplinary field at the interface of physics, chemistry and biology. It covers a variety of physical, mostly liquid or gel-like states and systems, which are easily deformable by thermal stresses and fluctuations at room temperature. This is why we call these materials 'soft'.

Complex fluids such as liquid crystals, colloidal suspensions, glasses, amphiphilic mixtures, polymeric liquids, foams, gels, granular matter and a number of biologically relevant substances belong to this category.

Flow of a composite material in a microfluidic cavity

This video shows the flow of a composite material in a microfluidic cavity: The material consists of a suspension of nanometre-sized particles in a nematic liquid-crystalline host phase, the simplest type of liquid crystal where the molecules have only orientational, but no positional order. Topological defect lines emerge where the order is strongly suppressed. This is because the preferred local orientation of liquid crystal molecules at the particle surfaces is incompatible with the long-range order of the nematic phase.

These materials are ubiquitous and share common features, such as a generic physical behaviour on thermal energy scales. On mesoscopic length scales in the range of several nanometres (10-9m) to micrometres (10-6m) they show also a strong tendency to self-organise into more complex structures.

Neither fully atomistic nor continuum models are suitable for a consistent description of the dynamics of these systems. The mesoscopic nature of soft matter requires specialised simulation methods that retain only the essential physical degrees of freedom. We use methods and principles from statistical physics and computational fluid dynamics like the lattice Boltzmann method and coarse-grained molecular dynamics. A specific focus of our group is on multiscale modelling of anisotropic fluids, composite materials and biomaterials.

Group Members

  • Dr Oliver Henrich, EPSRC Research Software Engineer Fellow, Chancellor's Fellow
  • Ms Magdalena Lesniewska, PhD Student