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MPhys Physics with Astrophysics

Year of entry: 2021

Course unit details:
Soft Matter Physics

Unit code PHYS40752
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 4
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Department of Physics & Astronomy
Available as a free choice unit? No


Soft Matter Physics


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Statistical Mechanics PHYS20352 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
Applications of Quantum Physics PHYS30101 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
Mathematical Fundamentals of Quantum Mechanics PHYS30201 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
Electromagnetic Radiation PHYS30141 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
Electrodynamics (M) PHYS30441 Pre-Requisite Compulsory


1. to provide a broad overview of different states, and properties of soft matter.
2. to introduce the physics of soft materials including liquid crystals, polymers and colloids.
3. to point out the connections between different soft matter materials, in particular liquid crystals, polymers and colloids.

Learning outcomes

This course unit detail provides the framework for delivery in 20/21 and may be subject to change due to any additional Covid-19 impact.  Please see Blackboard / course unit related emails for any further updates.

On completion successful students will be able to:
1. Explain the general concepts of soft matter physics.
2. Describe concepts of the physics of liquid crystals, polymers and colloids.
3. Give examples and explanations of phase transitions in soft matter.
4. Describe the connections between liquid crystals, polymers and colloids.
5. Explain key experimental techniques in relation to soft condensed matter.


1.   Introduction to Soft Materials
Classification in terms of their thermal, mechanical and often unusual physical properties.

2.   Liquid crystals
General structure of liquid crystalline molecules, structure of phases.

3.   The liquid crystalline state
Order parameter and Maier-Saupe theory.

4.   Chirality, optical properties, ferroelectricity and Landau theory

5.   Experimental techniques in the study of liquid crystal properties

6. Introduction to polymers
Terminology and nomenclature molar masses and distributions, chain - dimensions and structures. 

7. Polymers in solution
Ideal solutions, Flory-Huggins theory

8. Mechanical properties of polymers and visco-elastic behaviour. 

9. The glass transition
General phenomenon and theoretical models, experimental determination 

10. Liquid crystal polymers, elastomers

11. Colloids
Stability, DLVO theory and gels

12. Association colloids, Lyotropic Liquid Crystals and Langmuir-Blogett films 

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 100%

Feedback methods

There will be questions given out with the lecture summaries every week. Solutions will be discussed in three Q&A sessions which will provide feedback to students on their present understanding of course material covered.

Recommended reading

Collings, P.J. & Hird, M. Introduction to Liquid Crystals
Hamley, I.W. Introduction to Soft Matter (Wiley) Chichester, 2000
Jones, R.A.L. Soft Condensed Matter (OUP) Oxford, 2002
Kleman, M., Laverentovich O. Soft Matter Physics (Springer), 2003
Rubinstein, M., Colby, R. H., Polymer Physics (OUP), 2003
Tabor, D., Gases liquids & solids CUP, 1991

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 1.5
Lectures 24
Independent study hours
Independent study 74.5

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Ingo Dierking Unit coordinator

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