Institute for Condensed Matter and Complex Systems

Our research is concerned with the complex interactions of many-body systems. All the recognisable states of Nature - such as solids, liquids, living things, turbulence, or shock waves - emerge from these complex interactions. Albeit shaped by underlying physics of quantum mechanics and electromagnetism, such systems can only be understood by finding additional physical principles.

Part of our work is on physical condensed matter systems: solids, liquids, living organisms and ‘viscoelastic’ materials such as polymers and suspensions, and on interactions between them. We aim to characterise the behaviour of these materials in the laboratory, model them using theory and computation, and thus understand such behaviour in terms of their microscopic constituents (atoms, molecules, colloidal particles, etc.).

Complex systems are those in which unexpected behaviours emerge from the known interactions between simple objects - life being the canonical example. We investigate the physics of life and survival, from the extremes of astrobiology to the cell-level behaviour of organisms and diseases up to the collective behaviour of active matter.  Our developments within nonequilibrium thermodynamics takes us beyond physical objects, to the development of interaction networks, providing new insights into areas such as the development of language, economics or ecosystems.

Our institute's specialities are based around Soft Condensed Matter, Extreme Conditions Physics and High Performance Computing.  We conduct extremely interdisciplinary research, with close collaboration between experiment and theory.

Because the subject matter of our work is the very stuff of the everyday world, it has very wide applicability. In particular, our expertise in energy applications extends from hydrogen storage, through battery design to radiation tolerance of materials for fusion reactors. The electronics and opto-electronics industries are underpinned by the fundamental understanding of semiconductors, liquid crystals, conducting polymers and other materials provided by condensed matter physicists. Planetary scientists base their work on the behaviour of gases and minerals at extreme pressure and temperatures. The complex behaviour of suspensions and polymers is ubiquitous in everything from paints through shampoo to tomato ketchup. And finally, our expertise is now being applied to the study of biological systems, which are, after all, specialised forms of condensed matter. Given the wide range of applications of our work, we welcome opportunities to work with industrial partners.

It is therefore not surprising that more physicists work in condensed matter than in any other single sub-discipline of physics.

The research in our institute is covered mostly by the following research themes:

Much of our work on soft matter and living systems is funded by EPSRC through a Programme Grant on ‘Design Principles for New Soft Materials’, awarded via their flagship scheme for large collaborative projects.