Soft and Biological Matter

Prof. Daniel Beller uses theory and computation to study soft matter and biological physics. His group’s research focuses on spatial organization and its consequences in a variety of systems such as liquid crystals, colloidal crystals, cytoskeletal biofilament suspensions, and bacterial colonies.

Simulated active flocking phase of microtubules (cytoskeletal filaments)
driven by kinesin motor proteins. Colors: orientation.

Prof. Brian Camley is a new faculty member who uses theory and computation to study the physics of cell biology. This includes questions like “How do cells work together to find a signal?” or “How do proteins move in fluid membranes?”

Simulation of a cell aggregate following a chemical gradient by a tug-of-war.

cell diagram

Dr. Ana Damjanovic is in the biophysics department, and is interested in working with physics students. She is working on understanding how ion channels work, and especially the role of electrostatics in determining the ion selectivity and conductance of ion channels.

A snapshot from a molecular dynamics simulation by physics graduate student Ada Chen, of an ion channel (blue) embedded in a lipid membrane (pink) and in water.

molecular dynamics simulation

Prof. Robert Leheny is interested in both soft and hard condensed matter physics. He has recently been focused on complex fluids and liquid crystals.

Prof. Daniel Reich conducts research in biological physics, where he applies magnetic nanoparticles and microfabricated systems to studies of cell mechanics and cellular mechanotransduction.

Top left: schematic of a 1-mm-scale device used in Prof. Reich’s lab to investigate the elasticity of biological tissue cells. Top right: The cell is positioned on flexible magnetic pillars which can be pulled further apart by a magnet.


Prof. Francesca Serra is a new faculty member in experimental soft matter physics and her research focuses on liquid crystals. In particular, she studies the optics of topological defects and the interaction of living cells with liquid crystal elastomers.

Prof. Yaojun Zhang has broad interests in biophysical modeling of living systems, with a current focus on biomolecular condensates and liquid-liquid phase separation — an emerging field at the interface between physics and biology.

Chromosomal DNA may control how liquid condensates form and grow in the cell nucleus. Simulation snapshot: A shell of stretched chromatin (blue) surrounding a droplet (red).