Theoretical Condensed Matter & Biological Physics

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The condensed matter theory group at Syracuse comprises six faculty members interested in a wide array of topics in soft condensed matter and biological physics. There are also several Postdoctoral research associates, graduate and undergraduate students working in this area.

Faculty: M.J. Bowick, L. Manning, M.C. Marchetti, A.A. Middleton, J. Schwarz, M. Wellner (Emeritus)

Mark Bowick is a theoretical and computational physicist whose work focuses on the relation between geometry and order in soft condensed matter systems. He has carried out computational and analytical studies of the properties of membranes and random surfaces; this work revealed a tubular phase transition in anisotropic membranes. His work also includes both experimental and theoretical studies of topological defect formation during the isotropic to nematic phase transition in liquid crystals; these string defects are a laboratory analog for cosmic string formation during the cooling of the early universe. Most recently, much of Prof. Bowick's research has been directed at understanding "spherical crystals", with applications to colloidosomes and viruses. Home Page.

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Lisa Manning interests include collective motion in disordered, non-equilibrium materials, including glasses, granular materials and biological tissues. How is structure related to flow in these materials? Why is plastic deformation generically localized, and how can we identify flow defects? How do macroscopic phenomena such as surface tension and viscosity emerge from microscopic properties? To address these questions in various materials, Prof. Manning uses theoretical and computational methods. Home Page.

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Cristina Marchetti is interested in understanding the emerging collective behavior of systems that are driven far from equilibrium by internal or external energy sources, large fluctuations, or material disorder. One area of focus are active and self-propelled systems, such as mixtures of cytoskeletal filaments and motor proteins, the cell cytoskeleton, bacteria colonies, collections of cells in elastic matrices or living tissues, and vibrated granular layers. Active systems form an exciting new class of nonequilibrium soft materials with intriguing large-scale collective behavior and mechanical properties, as well as direct relevance to important biological functions, such as cell motility and how cells responds to and generate forces. A second area of interest is vortex physics in high-temperature superconductors and collective transport in driven, disordered systems, including vortex lattices and glasses, charge density waves in anisotropic metals, and colloids on rough substrates. Visit Marchetti's Home Page.

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Alan Middleton Alan Middleton uses numerical methods to study the physics of condensed matter, especially that of matter with "frozen-in" or quenched disorder. Such materials have very unusual dynamics, including extremely slow relaxation and memory effects. Prof. Middleton's work benefits from connections between computer science and physics: much of the mathematics from computer science can be used to study disordered systems and physical ideas can also motivate improved computer algorithms for optimization in complex systems. For example, computers that find routes between two points in a road network can be used to find low energy configurations for one-dimensional physical objects in a random potential. Middleton's group develops numerical methods, applies these to fundamental problems in condensed matter physics, and develops new algorithms for studying complex disordered and dynamical systems. Professor Middleton is principal investigator of the grant "Statics and Dynamics of Materials with Quenched Disorder". Visit Middleton's Home Page.

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Jen Schwarz's research interests include building models of correlated percolation inspired by jamming in granular and glassy systems, looking for discontinuous, disorder-driven localization transitions in quantum systems, studying the interplay between morphology and rheology in the actin cytoskeleton, and incorporating the effects of microRNA in models of gene regulation. Visit Schwarz's Home Page.

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Marcel Wellner is an emeritus professor who does biological physics research in collaboration with scientists at neighboring Upstate Medical University. The research involves the propagation of electric waves in the living heart muscle. Such waves ordinarily occur in the healthy heart, where they are needed to trigger the heartbeat. Occasionally, however, waves will propagate anomalously, thereby causing dangerous or lethal "arrhythmias." The Upstate group studies these phenomena using observational, experimental, computational, and theoretical approaches. Visit Wellner's Home Page.

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