Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Biophysics and soft matter physics

Biophysics combines approaches from physics with biological questions and hypotheses. Soft matter physics investigates soft condensed matter systems.

Partners involved:
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

The scope and what we're doing

Biophysics brings quantitative, experimental and theoretical approaches from physics with biological questions and hypotheses, to study problems at and across a range of biological length scales and to understand biological systems. This includes development and use of, for example, new approaches to spectroscopy, microscopy, imaging, scattering and cell manipulation.

Soft matter physics sits at the interface between chemistry, physics and biology, and includes investigation of the structure, self-assembly, kinetics and properties of liquids, colloids, particles, formulations, gels, foams, sprays, soft solids and interfaces.

We will help to build a more cohesive interdisciplinary UK Biophysics research area which will deliver collaborative, problem-focused experimental and theoretical research at the interface with biology and medicine.

Significant critical-mass investment will build on this national community. Close working between EPSRC and other funding agencies will facilitate interdisciplinary research and translation to use – for example through Technology Touching Life and the Physics of Life Strategic Priority Fund. Soft Matter Physics research should focus on both fundamental developments and pull-through to formulation and manufacturing.

We aim to:

  • invest in support for researchers at the start of their careers and beyond, to build their profiles and track records within this cross-disciplinary, collaborative area
  • build on and add value to the current strong portfolio of interdisciplinary training in biophysics and soft matter physics.

We will facilitate researchers to link their fundamental research to applications by engaging with both users and researchers in more applied fields (such as biology, medicine, polymer science, materials science and chemical engineering) to build mutually beneficial relationships.

Research is expected to contribute to a wide range of areas and sectors – including formulated products, pharmaceuticals, food, photonic systems, energy, understanding disease, diagnostics, analytical techniques, and new materials and devices.

Overlaps between the two communities covered by this research area should be maximised to create synergies, however, we also encourage research focusing solely on biological or soft matter challenges.

Why we're doing it

The UK currently has a number of notable pockets of world-leading research in this area, including several large EPSRC investments and fellowships. These are widely distributed, however, in terms of both geography and topic, with funding from a wide range of sources in the UK and abroad.

While the Physics of Life network has done much to draw this community together, more can be done to create more cohesion and a collaborative approach.

Understanding the Physics of Life Roadmap

Significant training investment is associated with this research area, through both centres for doctoral training (CDTs) and the Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP), and the area’s strategic focus aims to build on and add value to this investment in skills.

The importance of biophysics and soft matter physics, with respect to underpinning future biological and health innovations, as well as formulation product design, is widely acknowledged, including within the Maxwell Review.

Read the Maxwell Review – how engineering research benefits the health and life sciences.

Research in soft matter physics has strong pull-through to both chemical engineering and formulation manufacturing, as demonstrated by engagement in the Future Formulation of Complex Products managed activity and the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) facility in biologics, and to interfacial properties studied within Surface science.

Complex modelling approaches are increasingly important to both parts of this area, drawing on approaches from materials science as well as, more fundamentally, novel mathematical research including Continuum mechanics and Mathematical biology.

Key areas of overlap for applications of biophysics research are with analytical science and medical engineering, especially the Biomaterials and tissue engineering, and Clinical technologies areas.

Research in this area spans the remit of EPSRC, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC), and the need to facilitate this overlap – and to deliver the full potential of biophysics to understand and underpin biology and medicine – has been acknowledged through the Technology Touching Life cross-Council priority and the Physics of Life Strategic Priority Fund.

Users from a broad range of areas currently collaborate on EPSRC investments in this area. Maintaining and increasing this collaboration is vital.

View evidence sources used to inform our research strategies.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships. Find out more about research area connections and funding for Biophysics and soft matter physics.

Find previously funded projects on Grants on the Web.

Last updated: 21 December 2022

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