Soft Matter Research Group

Arrested phase separation in a scalar active fluidAbout the Group

Professor Mike Cates, appointed in 2015 as the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, is head of the Soft Matter Research Group in DAMTP.

Soft Matter includes colloids, polymers, emulsions, foams, surfactant solutions, powders, liquid crystals, and similar materials. Domestic examples are paint, engine oil, mayonnaise, shaving cream, shampoo, and talc; high-tech counterparts are found in laptop displays, sensors, and drug delivery systems. Many biological systems involve "active" soft matter which, like life itself, is sustained by a continuous supply of energy.

Using both analytic and computational methods, the group addresses fundamental problems, such as how the basic principles of statistical mechanics are modified by activity, and more applied ones, such as how to predict the remarkable flow properties of very dense suspensions which suddenly transform from liquid to solid and back again depending on the applied stress level.

The mathematical methods used within the group include statistical field theory; exact and approximate solution of stochastic differential equations and PDEs; particle-based simulation; and numerical simulation of continuum field equations. Often as much time is spent figuring out what the proper equations of motion are, as is spent solving them: the field offers great scope for scientific as well as mathematical creativity. We have strong collaborations with researchers in Paris, Edinburgh, and around the world. 

This is a relatively new group, and we are still expanding. We welcome PhD applications in all areas described above. An idea of the type of work currently in progress can be seen from the selected publications listed here.

Some specific PhD project suggestions are:

1. Statistical mechanics of active colloids and polymers using active generalizations of classical N-body Smoluchowski dynamics.

2. Dynamics of topological defects in active matter on curved manifolds using coupled equations for order parameters and surface differential forms.

3. Non-Newtonian flow of viscoelastic micellar solutions: from microscopic kinetics to large-scale behaviour.

4. Stochastic field theories without time reversal symmetry: simulation and analytical studies of active matter.

For more details please contact Prof. Cates in the first instance.