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Electrostatic Effects in Soft Matter and Biophysics


Soft matter usually deals with research on materials that are not only mechanically soft, but, and more importantly, particularly prone to thermal fluctuation effects. Of particular interest are charged soft matter systems. They can be manufactured artificially like synthetic charged polymers (polyelectrolytes), which serve as superabsorbers in dypers, as flocculation and retention agents, as thickening and gelling agents, and as oil-recovery process aids. They appear however also abundant in all living organisms, since most of biologically relevant matter carries quite a large number of charges. Most of these materials perform important structural (e.g. membranes) and functional (e.g. DNA) tasks in the living matter that makes this interdisciplinary field particularly fascinating, moreover is should be of particular relevance for understanding the intricacies of the biological world. It can lead to such dramatic effects that thermal fluctuations and electrostatic interactions can revert the effective force between two equal charges in solution from repulsive to attractive.

This is certainly not the only surprise in store in the world of the soft and the charged. The conformational behavior of DNA, "the molecule" itself, appears to be governed to a large extend by this intricate interplay of electrostatics and Brownian motion. Since the analysis for electrostatic effects and thermal fluctuations combines such divers theoretical methods as continuum mechanics, statistical mechanics, field theory, molecular dynamics simulations and sophisticated laboratory techniques such as direct force measurements, laser tweezers, light, X-ray and neutron scattering, atomic force microscopy on the experimental side, this host of different methods is usually not present at any single university department.

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Type of Event: Euro Summer School
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This event takes place in Les Houches, Grenoble


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