School of Physics & Astronomy

Soft Condensed Matter



Soft materials are all around us and play a significant role in our everyday lives. They include materials such as synthetic polymers, biopolymers, liquid crystals, colloids and nanoparticles, animal and plant cells are found in many foods, personal care products, clothing, medicines, paints and inks and biological tissues to name but a few

A particularly striking property of many of these systems is the viscoelastic nature of their mechanical response. When deformed on short timescales these materials behave like elastic solids and on longer time scales they exhibit flow characteristics that are more like a viscous liquid. This particular effect is due to the fact that the relaxation times of the component parts of these systems are comparable to experimentally accessible timescales. These materials have such interesting properties because their constituent parts have structural elements that have dimensions which lie somewhere between the atomic length scale (10-10 metres) and macroscopic length scales (1 millimetres). For example, polymers contain long chain molecules that can be tens of nanometres in size and colloids contain small particles that can be anywhere from five nanometres to one micron in diameter.

Research Areas

At Nottingham we have a range of different active research projects in soft materials physics. These include (but are not limited) to studies of:

  • Pattern formation in polymer and colloidal nanoparticle films.
  • Photonic and hypersonic properties of polymer films and multi-layers.
  • The role of molecular confinement in influencing the dynamic and mechanical properties of ultrathin polymer films. This includes studies of phase separation, crystallisation, wetting/dewetting and the mechanical properties of films with thickness values as small as 5nm.
  • Resonant vibrational properties of microlitre liquid and viscoelastic drops and the use of gradient energy surfaces to actuate droplet motion.
  • Liquid spreading/dewetting on solid and liquid surfaces.
  • The effects of surfaces and interfaces on the dynamics and flow of polymers and colloids.
  • Bulk and interfacial rheology (flow) of polymers and colloids.
  • The role of surfaces, interfaces and nanoparticles in controlling the formation of protein aggregates and amyloid fibrils.

We have a good balance of ongoing pure and applied research in these areas and we welcome applications from any new students wishing to do a PhD in our group.



  • James Sharp (PI)
  • Mike Smith (PI)
  • Rob Temperton

Suggested Reading

Equipment & Techniques

  • Single wavelength self nulling ellipsometer
  • Fourier Transform Infared Spectroscopy
  • Broadband dielectric spectroscopy
  • UV Vis Spectroscopy
  • Optical Microscopy (Olympus BX52M - including flourescence, DIC, reflection/transmission)
  • High speed video facilities
  • Dynamic and Static light scattering
  • Thin film preparation facilities



School of Physics and Astronomy

The University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham NG7 2RD

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