Soft Matter Physics

In a liquid crystal watch, the molecules contained within a thin film of the screen are reorientated each second by extremely weak electrical signals. Here is a fine example of soft matter: molecular systems giving a strong response to a very weak command signal. They can be found almost everywhere. Soft magnetic materials used in transformers exhibit a strong magnetic moment under the action of a weak magnetic field. Take a completely different domain: gelatin, formed from col- lagen fibres dissolved in hot water. When we cool below 37 C, gelation occurs, the chains joining up at various points to form a loose and highly deformable network. This is a natural example of soft matter. Going further, rather than consider a whole network, we could take a single chain of flexible polymer, such as polyoxyethylene [POE = (CH CH O)N, 2 2 5 where N rv 10 ], for example, in water. Such a chain is fragile and may break under flow. Even though hydrodynamic forces are very weak on the molecular scale, their cumulated effect may be significant. Think of a rope pulled from both ends by two groups of children. Even if each girl and boy cannot pull very hard, the rope can be broken when there are enough children pulling.