General Introduction

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Soft matter is also known as “soft condensed matter”, “soft and fragile matter”, “complex fluids”, or “structured fluids.” These include polymers and their solutions, colloidal dispersions, surfactants and liquid crystals, and biological structures. Unlike “hard” condensed matter, metals and oxides you might have studied in solid-state physics or materials science classes, soft matter is less ordered although the order can still be long ranged. Soft matter responds more readily to applied forces. Many of the things we interact with every day are soft matter, from adhesives and amoebas to Zest and zucchini.

The field is still relatively young but has yielded new insights into condensed matter and fundamental physics in general. It has also led to the development of many new kinds of materials. The emphasis in this introductory course will be on the general physical principles used to explain macroscopic properties of soft matter. At the end of the semester, you should understand some of the concepts, experimental techniques, and open questions in the field.