Gerbode Lab

soft matter physics at harvey mudd college

Experimental Soft Matter Physics

In introductory physics courses, we learn about an idealized frictionless world of rigid bodies and smooth surfaces. Yet the physics of everyday life is complex: soft, sticky, squishy and often far from equilibrium. Nature has demonstrated repeatedly that harder does not necessarily mean stronger, from flexible blades of kelp that survive rough tidal shear stresses to sand dunes that withstand high winds while drifting across the desert. The unique combination of solid and liquid-like properties exhibited by such systems also arises in some manmade materials – classic everyday examples include paint, concrete and toothpaste. However, further incorporation of soft matter into modern engineering requires a deeper understanding of these materials. Soft matter physics explores the fundamental physical principles that underlie the complexity of such systems, and has opened up an exciting new class of questions with applications to industry, biology and materials science.