15 Credits AUTUMN

Pre-requisites: PHY339, PHY383

Aims/Description: Fascinating behaviour of soft matter and biological systems often occurs at thermal energy scales and can be described by statistical mechanical models. In addition, living biological matter is driven out of equilibrium due to internal biochemical sources of energy. Mathematical models and modern advanced experimental techniques are revealing the physical principles underpinning the biological world and the technological possibilities of complex soft materials.Much recent progress in soft matter and biology has been made thanks to the advent of advanced experimental  techniques which we will show are based on elegant physical principles. We will also study the physical principles underpinning the behaviour of complex soft matter and biological materials. We will describe phase transitions in multiple soft matter systems by calculating free energies. We will use random walk models to describe the shape of polymer molecules and the Brownian motion of colloids. We will also study the dynamics of polymers and the kinetics of polymerisation. We will then consider how polymerisation of protein filaments and action of molecular motors can generate forces in biological cells. This will involve us introducing concepts of systems that are in equilibrium versus out of equilibrium. Using a mathematical  framework we can describe behaviour at different length scales for example from the cytoskeleton to tissues, bacteria colonies and flocking. We will also investigate how the energy required for life is captured in photosynthesis.

Restrictions on availability: PHY6339 Statistical Physics is a co-requisite for MSc students

Staff Contact: HOBBS JAMIE K
Teaching Methods: Lectures, Seminars, Problem solving, Independent Study
Assessment: Formal Exam

Information on the department responsible for this unit (Physics and Astronomy):

Departmental Home Page
Teaching timetable


The content of our courses is reviewed annually to make sure it's up-to-date and relevant. Individual modules are occasionally updated or withdrawn. This is in response to discoveries through our world-leading research; funding changes; professional accreditation requirements; student or employer feedback; outcomes of reviews; and variations in staff or student numbers. In the event of any change we'll consult and inform students in good time and take reasonable steps to minimise disruption.

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Teaching methods and assessment displayed on this page are indicative for 2021-22. Students will be informed by the academic department of any changes made necessary by the ongoing pandemic.

Western Bank, Sheffield, S10 2TN, UK