Institute of Complex Systems
Universitat de Barcelona
Institute of Complex Systems
Universitat de Barcelona
Institute of Complex Systems
Universitat de Barcelona

Soft Condensed Matter

Condensed matter systems exhibiting phase transitions and criticality are probably the very first examples of complex systems. In such situations, the system’s response to external changes is not a simple superposition of the response of its constituents but rather an emerging collective property. Understanding it through the use of techniques from the fields of statistical and nonlinear physics increases its predictability and allows for the design of new and useful tailored materials. Indeed, a broad variety of physical and chemical systems and processes can be described as complex systems, and their degree of complexity demands the adaptation or the extension of currently existing tools to new situations.

An important field of research within the science of complex matter focuses on soft matter materials, which include colloids, polymers and gels, complex fluids, and biological materials. What these systems have in common is that they are easily deformed by external forces and that their behavior is governed by weak interactions at energy scales comparable to thermal energy. While research on soft matter has traditionally been focused on synthetic materials, rapid developments in molecular biology have provided evidence that soft interactions and fluctuation phenomena also play a vital role in biology. Soft materials display complex spatiotemporal responses and special physical properties, including high deformability and complex rheology, which makes them very attractive for technological applications, in particular, in the food and cosmetics industries. Regarding complex materials, it is also worth emphasizing the interest of the research community in developing intelligent materials, i.e. materials that are able to adapt their properties or structure according to specific needs or to environmental changes (in some cases mimicking natural materials and processes), and thus have a huge technological and industrial impact.

Soft Matter

Among the extensive variety of soft matter materials, colloidal systems, i.e. fluid suspensions of micron-sized polymer spheres, are particularly interesting, not only for their ubiquitous nature (colloids are present in creams, foams, smoke, paints, etc..), but also because they provide a rich playground for basic Condensed Matter Physics.

Complex Flows and Complex Fluids

Complex fluids are seemingly homogeneous at macroscopic scale, but they are disordered at the microscopic scale and possess structure at intermediate scales. As a result their deformation and flow response to external solicitations is usually very different from that of conventional liquids and solids.


Condensed matter systems composed of self-propelled units operating far from thermodynamic equilibrium belong to the realm of active matter. Such active “particles” possess internal degrees of freedom that allow them to self propel by extracting energy from their environment and dissipating it to move in a preferred direction.


The design of new useful tailored materials benefits from its fundamental understanding using techniques from statistical and nonlinear physics. In many cases an efficient design implies the control of the amount of disorder as well as the use of multiscale modelling approaches  from the nanoscale to large thermodynamic scales.