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PHYS 497/597 Special Topics: Soft Matter Physics

Location:  MP-408       Time:  MWF 10:40 – 11:30am

Required preparation: 1 semester Thermodynamics (any department), MATH 275, PHYS 212
Recommended preparation: PHYS 309

TextSoft Condensed Matter by Richard A.L. Jones
Instructor:  Dr. Hanna     (208) 426-3775     MP-423
Office Hours:  MWF 4:30-5:30pm, or by appointment

WeekMon dateTopics
 Part 1:    Introduction, Forces, and Phases
(Exam 1 over Chapters 1-3 on Wed Feb 20 – Review Tue Feb 19 MP-408 10:45am)
1.1/21(Holiday);  Soft matter;  Thermodynamics review
Reading:  (No Class); 1.1-1.2 (1-4);  Appendix A (178-181)
H1 due 1/28:   Homework handout, Class survey
2.1/28Forces and phases;  Viscoelasticity;  Glasses
Reading:  2.1-2.2 (5-10);  2.3 (10-16);  2.4 (16-23)
H2 due 2/4:   2.1, 2.4, 2.5, 2.6, 2.7
3.2/4Regular solution model;  Unmixing;  Interfaces
Reading:  3.1-3.2.0a (25-28);  3.2.0b-3.3.2a (29-31);  3.2.1 (31-32)
H3 due 2/11:   3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 3.4
4.2/11Spinodal decomposition ; Nucleation;  Freezing and melting
Reading: 3.3.1-3.3.2 (32-37);  3.3.3-3.3.4 (37-40);  3.4 (41-46)
H4 due 2/20:  3.5, 3.6
 Part 2:    Colloids and Polymers(Exam 2 over Chapters 4 & 5 on Wed Apr 9)

5.2/18(Holiday);  Exam 1 (Wed Feb 20);  Colloids and Brownian motion
Reading:  (No Class);  (Exam 1);  4.1-4.2 (49-52)
H5 due 2/25:  4.1, 4.2
6.2/25Van der Waals forces;  Casimir effect;  Debye screening
Reading:  4.3.1-4.3.2a (52-54);  4.3.2b (54-57);  4.3.3 (58-60)
H6 due 3/3:  4.3, Homework handout
7.3/3Stabilization and depletion;  Colloid phases;  Flow and Polymer Intro
Reading:  4.3.4-4.3.5 (60-62);  4.4 (62-68);  4.5 (68-71),  5.1-5.2 (73-77)
H7 due 3/10:  4.4, 4.5
8.3/10Freely-jointed chain on Fri 3/14
Reading:  5.3.1, B.1 (77-79, 182-134)
H8 due 3/17:  Homework handout;  PHYS 597: e-mail ranked list of at least 3 paper topics
9.3/17Excluded volume;  Coil-globule transition;  Polymer chains
Reading: 5.3.2-5.3.3a, B.2 (79-80, 183-184);  5.3.2b (81-82);  5.3.4-5.3.6 (82-85)
H9 due 3/31:  5.1;  PHYS 597: outlines with references
 3/24-3/28 SPRING BREAK
10.3/31Rubber elasticity;  Viscoelasticity;  Reptation
Reading:  5.4 (85-86);  5.5.1-5.5.2 (86-88);  5.5.3-5.57 (88-93)
H10 due 4/7:  5.2, 5.3
 Part 3:    Gels and Liquid Crystals
(Final Exam over Chapters 1-7 on Wed May 14)
11.4/7Review;  Exam 2 (Wed Apr 9);  Gels
Reading:  (Review Chapters 4 & 5);  (Exam 2);  6.1-6.2 (95-97)
H11 due 4/14:  5.4, 5.5
12.4/14Theory of gelation ;  Liquid crystals;  Nematic-isotropic transition
Reading:  6.3 (97-102);  7.1-7.2 (104-106);  7.3 (107-111)
H12 due 4/23:  Derive Eq. (6.9);  6.1, 6.2, 7.1
13.4/21(No class on 4/21);  Elasticity and defects;  Electromagnetic properties
Reading:  (Work on PHYS 497 paper);  7.4 (111-114);  7.5-7.6 (114-117)
H13 due 4/28:  7.2;  PHYS 597: research papers
14.4/28Helix-coil transitions;  Onsager transitions;  Liquid-crystal phases
Reading:  7.7.1-7.7.2 (118-121);  7.7.3 (122-125);  7.7.4-7.7.5 (126-128)
H14 due 5/5:  7.3;  PHYS 597: PowerPoint files
15.5/5PHYS 597 presentations:  Session 1;  Session 2;  Review
Reading:  (Review -- especially Chapters 6 & 7)
*** FINAL EXAM on Wednesday, May 14, 10:30am-12:30pm ***


To obtain a basic understanding of the key concepts describing soft condensed matter, including the fundamental properties, structures, and organization of colloids, polymers, and liquid crystals.  The course objectives will be accomplished through lecture and discussion of selected topics in class, and by students working through the assigned parts of text, including all assigned homework problems. Assessment will come from exams, assigned homework, and (for PHYS 597) a researched paper and associated classroom presentation.


The syllabus describes the intended progression of the course. The syllabus and homework assignments will be revised as needed. Changes to the syllabus and the homework assignments will be posted on the course web page,, which should be checked frequently for updates.


65% of your grade is based on the exams.  The exams are based on the textbook readings, worked examples in the text, the homework, and the class lectures. ALL EXAMS WILL BE COUNTED, AND NO MAKE-UP EXAMS WILL BE GIVEN. There will be two in-class exams (worth 20% each) and a two-hour final exam (worth 25%).  Only simple scientific calculators allowed during exams: no calculators that are capable of graphing, integration, differentiation, or symbolic algebra are allowed.  You may bring one 8.5″ by 11″ sheet of formulas for each exam, plus the formula sheets from your previous PHYS 497/597 exams. All formula sheets must be labeled at the top with your name and the exam number, be signed and handwritten by you, and be turned in with your exam. Your formula sheet should contain only numbered formulas from those sections of the chapters that are covered on the exam, and you must write the textbook equation number next to each formula. No other comments, drawing, or other information are allowed on the formula sheet. It is your responsibility to know the meaning of every symbol on your formula sheet, and to understand the meaning, applicability, and use of every equation that you include on your formula sheet.  Although they are not to be included on your formula sheet(s), you should be able to explain, in writing, the meaning and significance of those words and phrases that are highlighted in the textbook by boldface sans serif font.


35% of the PHYS 497 grade is based on the homework.  20% of the PHYS 597 grade is based on the homework.  Hand in what you have on the due date, at the beginning of class. NO LATE HOMEWORK ACCEPTED. Homework problems will form the basis for many of the exam problems. Look over your graded homework carefully and make sure you can work and understand every assigned homework problem. You are strongly encouraged to talk to the instructor about homework problems that you do not understand.

PHYS 597 Project:

15% of the PHYS 597 grade is based on a written paper (10% of grade) and PowerPoint presentation of the paper (5% of grade).  PHYS 597 students will write a researched paper, with references, on a soft-matter topic selected in consultation with the instructor, and will give a 15-minute PowerPoint presentation to the class.  Paper format: Title page (title, author name and information, one-paragraph abstract), at least 10 pages worth of double-spaced text for the main body (12-point font, 1-inch margins all around), not counting equations, figures, and references in standard form.  Please provide a hard copy of the paper, and e-mail the source files of the paper and the presentation to the instructor, on the due date.

Lectures & Assigned Readings:

Class lectures relate closely to the assigned readings in the text.  Students are expected to attend all lectures and participate actively in class.  Consult the syllabus and read the assigned pages before the material is covered in class. Carefully work through all examples and derivations in the assigned reading.  As you read, write down any questions you have about the reading and the numbered examples, and ask questions in class.

Extra Credit:

Extra credit problems that are an integral part of the textbook readings might be given from time to time in class.  They should be handed in at the due date of the earliest upcoming homework assignment with that homework assignment.  Note that the total possible amount of extra credit is very small (maximum of 1% to 2% of the total points in the course), so students should only attempt extra credit if it enhances their learning and does not interfere with their course assignments and responsibilities.

Academic Honesty:

Although you are encouraged to discuss the class lectures, readings, and assignments with your classmates, all the work that you turn in must be your own. NO CHEATING OR PLAGIARISM (PRESENTING OTHER PEOPLE’S WORK AS IF IT WERE YOUR OWN) WILL BE TOLERATED, INCLUDING ANY USE OF HOMEWORK SOLUTIONS FOUND ON THE INTERNET OR ELSEWHERE. If you make use of sources besides the class lectures or textbooks, you must provide explicit written references to the sources you use.  Researched papers must fully reference all sources, data, figures, and quotes, including any material from the Internet.  Plagiarism of the Internet, or of any other source, is not permitted.   Research papers should have the overwhelming majority of their sources and references from the published literature (books and refereed journals), and the authors of a paper are expected to have read and understood, at an appropriate level, the references sited in their paper. Failure to follow these rules of academic honesty, or any others listed in the Student Code of Conduct, could have drastic consequences, including (but not limited to) ejection from the course with a failing grade.

Grading Scale:

A- to A+ = 90 – 100,   B- to B+ = 75 – 90,   C- to C+ = 60 – 75,   D- to D+ = 45 – 60