cod. 1005458

Academic year 2018/19
1° year of course - Second semester
Academic discipline
Fisica della materia (FIS/03)
Microfisico e della struttura della materia
Type of training activity
52 hours
of face-to-face activities
6 credits
hub: PARMA
course unit

Learning objectives

Knowledge of the main structures of soft matter, their properties and their applications.
Knowledge of experimental and theoretical study techniques of soft matter.
Practical ability to design and produce simple soft materials based on property design.
Ability to present the research results in a concise way and with a language understandable to non-specialists.


Knowledge is required of matter physics, basic chemistry, and statistical mechanics.
Any missing items will be provided within the course.

Course unit content

Structure, properties and applications of soft matter states.
These are the aggregate states of matter that can not be classified in the (unknowable) solid-liquid-gas scheme, which are extremely common in everyday life and in biological structures: suspensions, emulsions, foams, gels ...

Full programme

History of soft matter physics.
Summaries of chemistry, matter physics and statistical mechanics.
Complex systems and structures out of equilibium.
Basic structures and their properties:
-glassy textures
- granular material
Composite structures
The geometry of soft matter: fractals and percolation
Physical properties of soft matter
Experimental techniques for the study of soft matter
Theoretical models for soft matter physics
Applications and engineering: biomaterials, food, molecular cuisine, cosmetics, drugs, textiles, biodegradable materials, bioplastics, ...


R.A.L. Jones, Soft Condensed Matter , Oxford University Press, Oxford (2002).

-Educational material, articles, presentations given by the teacher

Teaching methods

The course is structured in two periods of equivalent duration. During the first one, general and institutional, an overall vision of the subject is provided, together with all the theoretical notions needed. At the end of the first period, each student chooses a subject related to the course, which will be deepened individually or in small groups through both study and laboratory activity (or theoretical modeling).
These activities, if desired by the student, may be preliminary to a degree thesis related to the discipline.
At the end of the second period, the student must submit a written report on the activity.
The oral presentation of this activity, which will form part of the exam, will be preceded by individual lessons and sessions on the techniques of communication and presentation.

Assessment methods and criteria

Every student is personally followed during the second period.
The final exam consists of the oral presentation, accompanied by audiovisual material, of the activity carried out in the second period, followed by questions about the topic and general questions relating to the institutional part carried out in the first period, to verify the organic knowledge of discipline.
The duration of the oral examination is about half an hour and half of the time is devoted to the oral presentation.
Both the written report and the oral examination are taken into account for the purposes of the assessment. The written report, the oral presentation and the questions contribute equally to the final vote.
In the evaluation of the written report both content and writing style are taken into account. When evaluating the oral presentation, the contents, the style of the support material, the speech skills and the ability of synthesizing are taken into consideration.

Other information

For centuries, physics has dealt with systems composed of small and simple molecules. For this reason, the discovery of the structure and functions of macromolecules has opened unexpected horizons for research. Molecules composed of a large number of atoms exhibit peculiar properties and extremely different behaviors. Each one can take different configurations, depending on the interaction with the environment, and can bind to the others in a number of possible ways. These properties are the basis of a surprising complexity both in the functions of the individual units and in the aggregation states they may have.
The term "soft matter" becomes popular and spreads since 1991, when the Nobel Prize for Physics Pierre Gilles De Gennes decided to use it as the title of his Nobel lecture. The need for this type of physics has always existed. Still today, many school books report the antiquated classification of matter in three states: solid, liquid and gas. And they add that the solid has its own shape and volume, the liquid only volume and gas none of the two. All this is obviously and comically reductive. If we look around, there are very few objects of everyday life that fall into these definitions. Where do we put our hair, clothes, toothpaste, paper, glue, elastic, chewing gum, cosmetics and all the food we eat? For all these structures new categories have been created: glasses, suspensions, emulsions, foams, gels, and new study tools, both conceptual and empirical. All the vast applications ranging from the pharmaceutical industry to cosmetics, from the food world to new biomaterials, environmentally friendly, biodegradable and renewable, designed for a near future where oil fields will be depleted.