Theoretical Physics of Living Matter

We employ theory, modeling, and simulation to study and understand the structure, self-assembly, and dynamics of complex fluids, active soft matter, and living matter -- on the basis of physical principles.We focus on the investigation systems far from thermal equilibrium, in particular the collective behaviour of mesoscopic self-propelled objects as well as the flow behaviour of biofluids.

Focus of our Research

Artificial Cells

Artificial Cells

Localized forces from within biological cells determine their deformation and migration in response to external stimuli. Artificial cells can contribute to the understanding of the underlying mechanisms, and may later serve as miniature factories or micro-robots.

Blood -- Flow and Function

Blood -- Flow and Function

The flow properties of blood through micro-capillaries is determined by the shape and deformability of red blood cells. This flow affects many other blood components, as white blood cells, platelets, and von Willebrand factor proteins, which control immune response and blood clotting.

Sperm motion in microchannels

Sperm motion in microchannels

Sperm cells swim in a fluid by a snake-like motion of their tail, the "flagellum". The resulting propulsions increases the sperm density near walls -- which is important for the journey through the Fallopian tubes, but also for motion in microfluidic devices.

Swirls of active Brownian particles

Swirls of active Brownian particles

Active Brownian spheres have a preferred propulsion direction, but their isotropic interaction potential does not favor any orientational alignment of neighboring particles. Nevertheless, they form collective swirls and jets -- due to a motility sorting at interfaces.

Nanoparticles at membranes

Nanoparticles at membranes

There is a large variety of artificial and biological nanoparticles which interact with cell membranes. This concerns the invasion of cell by viruses, or the nanotoxicity of many manufactored nanoparticles. Their entry into cells depends on many aspects, such as size, shape, and surface chemistry.

News and Events

Synthetische Zellen

Synthetic Cells: Controlling Shapes and Movements

Living cells can take on many different forms, in order to move around, worm their way through narrow spaces, or to absorb nutrients. Pathogens use these abilities for active locomotion to penetrate healthy tissue, for instance. Scientists at Forschungszentrum Jülich and ETH Zurich have now studied the physical principles of these complex processes using a new synthetic model system.

International Conference

Online Conference Motile Active Matter

The motility of cells and microorganisms is a cornerstone of the existence of life and an outstanding achievement of evolution.


International Helmholtz Research School

Intense training in Biophysics and Soft Matter and a comprehensive framework of experimental and theoretical tools. More



Softcomp was born as a Network of Excellence (NoE) supported by the EU aiming to establish a knowledge base for an intellegent design of functional and nanoscale soft matter composites.



The European Training Network PHYMOT studies the Physics of Microbial Motility by combining experimental, simulational, and theoretical approaches.


Functional Microgels

The SFB brings together research groups from polymer science, chemical engineering and life sciences.

Microswimmers Fokus


The DFG Priority Program SPP1726 "Microswimmers –from single particle motion to collective behaviour" investigates the physical behaviour of active colloids and motile biological microorganisms.



Microfluidic particle fractionation based on the inherent properties of e.g. cells, microorganisms and organelles offers significant improvements over conventional techniques.