Specialise in Soft Matter and Statistical Physics

The goal is to establish accurate models and descriptions of complex systems using the laws of physics and statistical mechanics. In many cases, the behaviour of biological systems and soft materials can be modelled by well-known interactions and properties of individual components, resulting in a complex emergent behaviour on a larger scale.

It is often the job of physicists to identify and describe the underlying principles behind such complex phenomena. In some cases, precise molecular mechanisms can be identified, which can be used, for example, for the treatment of diseases or the development of new technological materials. 

Important examples of soft matter systems studied at SDU include the physics of cell membranes, polymers and gels, DNA, diffusion and transport processes, energetics of redox and photodriven reaction, as well as the kinetics and thermodynamics of the origin of life processes and minimal artificial cells. We also study complex systems beyond the molecular scale, for example evolutionary dynamics of socio-technical systems and the physics of interacting living agents.

The Soft Matter & Statistical Physics group at SDU is a diverse dynamical environment composed of physicists with a strong interest in complex systems. Experimental activities include an advanced laboratory for biophysical experiments and microscopy closely integrated with the Danish Molecular Biomedical Imaging Center. We also develop software for data analysis and simulations closely integrated with experiments. Most projects are done with external international partners from other universities or from industry.

Courses offered

The Master's degree programme in Physics at SDU allows you to choose most of your courses according to your personal interests. In the academic year 2018/2019, we offer the following courses within the area of Soft Matter and Statistical Physics:

FY802: Statistical physics

This course gives you insight into methods, models and phenomena in modern statistical physics. Apply relevant models of equilibrium and non-equilibrium phenomena in systems with many degrees of freedom. The goal is to apply relevant numerical methods, and validate and interpret the results of both simulations and theoretical analyses.

Responsible teacher: Michael Lomholt

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FY820: Computational statistical physics

In this course, you will implement and experiment with advanced numerical methods (within the frameworks of Molecular Dynamics and Monte Carlo) for modelling and analysing physical problems within the context of statistical mechanics.

Responsible teacher: Paolo Sibani

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FY821: Experimental physics III

The aim of the course, which is a compulsory course on the Master's degree programme in Physics, is for you to become familiar with modern methods in experimental physics. All physics is founded in experiment, and an understanding of modern experimental methods as well as data analysis is crucial for even the most dedicated theoretical physicist.

Responsible teacher: Adam Cohen Simonen

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FY823: Bayesian inference and information theory

The course introduces you to Information Theory and the Bayesian statistical framework, and applies it to solving inference problems, that is, how to judge how probable a given theory is when confronted with a certain set of observational data.

Responsible teacher: Michael Lomholt

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FY819: Introduction to Structure Studies using Large Scale Facilities

The course will provide you with awareness of the potential of Large Scale Facilities (LSF) and introduces the use of X-rays and neutrons for the study of condensed matter. Course topics will address characteristic questions from soft matter and other materials.

Responsible teacher: Beate Klösgen

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NAT809: Assembling minimal living systems

The course will enable you to understand the physical principles behind minimal living processes, which are important for a wide range of scientific and technological application areas ranging from physics, chemistry and biology to computer science, artificial intelligence, and engineering.

Responsible teacher: Steen Rasmussen

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Due to their fundamental nature, some of the courses listed above are also part of the specialisation in Computational Physics or compulsory for all students on the Master's degree programme in Physics.

Master Thesis projects

The following are examples of previous Master Thesis topics in the area of Soft Matter and Statistical Physics:

  • Experimental studies of plasma membrane repair
  • An experimental model system the formation of lipid droplets in cells
  • Wetting of single micron-scale fibers for composite materials
  • The random walk approach to nested sampling
  • Modelling diffusion of water into the outer layers of human skin
  • Bayesian analysis of Fluorescence Correlation Spectroscopy data 
  • Stochastic thermodynamics of active membrane fluctuations 
  • The topography of complex energy landscapes 
  • Growing mesoscopic structures in aging hard sphere colloids 
  • Area law in the Tangled Nature model of ecosystem evolution 
  • Simulate the mechanical properties of gels of rigid actin filaments 
  • Aggregation behaviour of casein micelles in yoghurt and cheese 
  • Physics of origins of life processes
  • Thermodynamics and kinetics of metabolic and informational processes
  • Scaling and dynamics of biological and technological evolution

Who teaches Soft Matter and Statistical Physics?

John Hjort Ipsen works in the area of biophysics with a particular focus on the structure and dynamics of biomembranes. He has a broad and deep expertise in the field and performs theoretical modelling and simulations as well as data analysis in close collaboration with experimentalists.

Beate Klösgen works in the area of soft condensed matter using scattering techniques (X-ray and Neutrons). She employs these uniquely powerful techniques at Large Scale Facilities to reveal the structure of soft matter systems at the nanoscale.

Michael Lomholt works in the area of non-equilibrium statistical physics, stochastic processes and data analysis. He models different biological and soft matter systems out of equilibrium, and also applies Bayesian inference for model selection with experimental data from these systems.

Steen Rasmussen is fascinated by the physics behind the creative forces in natural and human-made systems. These are studied in computational and experimental investigations of self-organizing processes in different systems. Systems range from bottom-up assembly of protocells - minimal self-replicating systems - to the evolution of technology in society.

Paolo Sibani models complex dynamical systems using and developing techniques from non-equilibrium statistical physics, stochastic processes and computer simulations. He works theoretically and computationally with condensed matter systems, both hard (e.g. spin-glasses) and soft (colloids) and with the evolution dynamics of biological and cultural ecosystems.

Adam Cohen Simonsen works experimentally on biological interfaces and soft materials. His research is focused on building experimental model systems of cellular processes to reveal mechanisms of, for instance, plasma membrane repair. He also works on gels and polymer systems studied with high resolution microscopy and on data analysis and programming.

Carsten Svaneborg is fascinated by the physics of everyday materials like rubbers, plastics and gels. How do their very complex material properties relate to the structure and dynamics of their polymeric constituents? He develops and applies statistical mechanical polymer models to study such problems.