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Heidelberg, 8 April 2011

Soft Matter - The stuff that dreams are made of

New book offers a tour through the world of liquids, foams, gels and other materials

While hard to believe, things as disparate as fog, tennis shoes, chocolate mousse, and proteins have something in common. The science of soft matter is an exciting realm of research that explains the behavior of a wide variety of materials, including liquids, liquid crystals colloids, plastics, foams, gels, and a number of biological materials.
In the new book, Soft Matter – The stuff that dreams are made of (Springer), Roberto Piazza, professor of condensed matter physics, explains the answers found in soft matter, to a wide variety of questions, including:
- Why does a cement mix needs water to harden?
- Why do soap bubbles burst and why is crude oil so thick?
- Why can pond skaters walk on the surface of water?
- What do physicists mean by the ‘kissing number’?
As Philip Ball, award-winning science writer, said, “Soft matter may, as Roberto Piazza puts it, be the stuff of dreams, but it is also the stuff of life. That is what makes this book so engaging – because it shows the ingenuity that both nature and humankind have invested in the bendy, stretchy, fragile, tough and adaptable substances we find all around us. There is plenty of hard science in this soft matter, and Piazza offers an urbane and eloquent tour through it.”
Soft Matter – the stuff that dreams are made of takes you for a leisurely walk through the ‘middle earth’ that scientists call soft matter -- much smaller than what we observe with the naked eye, but not as remote as the esoteric realm of molecules, atoms and fundamental particles. From toys to trainers, our civilization would be very different if we did not have plastic. From milk to paint, what would we do without colloids? We ourselves fall into the category of soft matter, made as we are of a molecular origami of proteins, DNA and other biological compounds.
This fascinating exploration reveals what these materials have in common and which aspects of their behavior make them useful in our everyday life. Understanding more about their physical properties will make you marvel at the ‘soft’ things that surround us.
Roberto Piazza trained as a physicist at the school of Vittorio Degiorgio, and is now a professor of condensed matter physics at the Politecnico di Milano, Italy. He is also Associate Editor of the European Physical Journal E and coordinator of the European Space Agency's Topical Team for "Applications of colloids in microgravity." He has made important contributions to research on nanoparticle suspensions, polymer and surfactant solutions and biological macromolecules.

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