By Trush Majmudar

Physics and mathematics have been used successfully to describe the world around us. When we think of physics, we usually think either very big, like stars and galaxies, or very small, like atoms and molecules. But our everyday experience typically is of things that are somewhere in-between in scale; think of cereal, salt and pepper, soaps, shampoos, toothpaste, ketchup, etc. The physics of these kinds of materials is an active area of research and is classified as “soft matter physics.” In the upcoming series of classes at Jefferson Market Library, “The Physics of Everyday Things,” we will explore the physics behind a few of these materials.


First, we will see that a simple and ubiquitous material like sand is in fact very complicated and can exhibit puzzling behavior. Sand or anything that is “grainy” can show behavior that is solid-like, liquid-like or gas-like. The physics of grainy materials in each of these states are unique and we will see why they behave the way they do and also why it is important to study such systems (from efficient storage to making the Mars Rover move on Martian sand efficiently).

Next we will explore the world of strange “liquids.” We know what we mean when we think of liquids, but how about mayonnaise, ketchup, or even toothpaste? Should they be considered liquids, or are they somewhere between solids and liquids? These kinds of unusual fluids are known as “complex fluids,” with unusual properties. We will see what those properties are and how to understand their behavior. Finally, we will explore the emerging field of creating new materials and artificial machines inspired by nature. How do we create strong but light fibers like spider silk, or nanobots that can be programmed to heal injuries or create artificial organs? We will explore cutting-edge research on many such new inventions.

“The Physics of Everyday Things” will be held Saturdays, September 10, 17, 24, and October 1, from 3:00 pm – 4:30 pm. Registration begins August 27, online, in person, or by phone.

Trush Majmudar, Clinical Assistant Professor of Mathematics at New York University, The Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences. Ph.D. in Physics from Duke University and Postdoctoral Fellow at MIT.

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