Beller Research Group
for Soft Matter and Biological Physics

Beller Research Group
for Soft Matter and Biological Physics#

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Our group explores the basic physics underlying complex phenomena in ordered soft materials, biological matter, and living systems. We are part of a vibrant and expanding community of Soft and Biological Matter researchers at the Johns Hopkins University Department of Physics & Astronomy.

We use theoretical approaches combining statistical physics, elasticity theory, and material geometry and topology, alongside computational approaches such as mesoscale relaxational methods, coarse-grained Brownian dynamics, and stochastic front propagation simulations. Spatial self-organization, complex geometries, and topological defects are recurring themes in our research. Much of our work is in close collaboration with experimentalists from Physics, Materials Science, and Chemical Engineering backgrounds.

Our current research areas include:#

  • Active matter with liquid crystalline order

    How do emergent collective motions depend on material geometry, topology, and non-equilibrium force generation?

  • Self-assembly in ordered soft materials

    How do material order, interfacial effects, and chirality determine spontaneous spatial patterning and structure formation in liquid crystals and soft solids?

  • Biological population genetics

    What can statistical physics teach us about a population’s changing spatial structure and its evolutionary consequences?

Latest news#

Paper on tubular crystal defect reactions is published

May 7, 2024

In a paper in Physical Review Materials, we show that wrapping a 2D crystalline sheet into a tube enables defects to interact in unusual sequences of topological transformations.

Dr. Louise Head joins the group

May 1, 2024

Louise arrives after earning her Ph.D. in the group of Prof. Tyler Shendruk at the University of Edinburgh. Welcome, Louise!

Dr. Chanania Steinbock joins the group

February 1, 2024

Chanania arrives after earning his Ph.D. in the group of Prof. Eytan Katzav. Welcome, Chanania!

Paper on mixing dynamics in active nematics published

January 8, 2024

Our article in Physical Review E shows that active nematic defect dynamics, which are normally chaotic, also admit a periodic orbit that maximizes the chaotic mixing of the active nematic fluid.

Preprint on range expansions in heterogeneous environments posted

October 19, 2023

In a new preprint posted to the arXiv, we show that when a biological population expands through a landscape with randomly distributed resources, the newly colonized area is dominated by a small fraction of geneaological lineages that followed paths of least time.

Preprint on defect dynamics in tubular crystals posted

September 8, 2023

In a new preprint posted to the arXiv, we show that wrapping a 2D crystalline sheet into a tube enables defects to interact in unusual sequences of topological transformations.

Commentary on liquid crystal order in cell monolayers published

September 7, 2023

This "News and Views" commentary in Nature Physics explores the impact on active matter research of a recent paper by Luca Giomi and collaborators on quantifying coexisting liquid crystal symmetries in cell monolayers.

Preprint on active nematic self-mixing posted

August 21, 2023

In a new preprint posted to the arXiv, we show that active nematic defect dynamics, which are normally chaotic, also admit a periodic orbit that maximizes the chaotic mixing of the active nematic fluid.

Madhuvanthi Athani wins a best poster award!

August 17, 2023

Her poster titled “Symmetry and stability of orientationally ordered collective motions of self-propelled, semiflexible filaments” won second place for Best Poster Presentation at the program “Soft and Living Matter: from Fundamental Concepts to New Material Design” at the International Centre for Theoretical Sciences, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.

Jane B.D.M. Garcia wins DSOFT Travel Grant!

July 18, 2023

Preprint on liquid crystal-mediated self-assembly posted

June 5, 2023

In a new preprint posted to the arXiv, we reveal in numerical modeling how highly multistable patterns of liquid crystal defects can be generated using geometrically structured confinement and thermally controlled phase transitions, and how these patterns can be exploited to guide the self-assembly of nanoparticles.

Preprint on active liquid crystals posted

June 5, 2023

In a new preprint posted to the arXiv, we find in agent-based simulations that long-range nematic order in "gliding assays" is transient rather than dynamically stable, and may require some motion in the third dimension.

Jimmy Gonzalez Nuñez speaks at Physics of Life symposium

April 21, 2023

Jimmy Gonzalez Nuñez was among a handful of speakers selected to present their research at the CUNY Graduate Center’s “Physics of Life: Students and Postdocs Edition” symposium. He gave a talk entitled “Environmental vs demographic noise in range expansions”.

2022
Jimmy Gonzalez Nuñez speaks at Isaac Newton Institute

October 14, 2022

Population genetics in active matter paper published in Frontiers in Physics

July 12, 2022

Active nematic dynamics in growing colonies of immotile bacteria may help slow the population's loss of genetic diversity --- paper published in Frontiers in Physics.

Tubular crystals paper published in PNAS

February 2, 2022

Crystalline sheets rolled up into tubes can be programmed with reconfigurable shapes through the placement and motion of defects in the crystalline lattice --- paper published in PNAS.

Jimmy Gonzalez Nuñez awarded DBIO Shirley Chan Student Travel Grant

January 26, 2022
Jimmy Gonzalez Nuñez awarded a DBIO Shirley Chan Student Travel Grant for the APS March Meeting!

2021
Active matter paper published in PNAS

December 21, 2021

Mobility of motor proteins enhances emergent active nematic dynamics in a microtubule gliding assay --- paper with Hirst, Dasbiswas, and Gopinathan groups (UC Merced) published in PNAS.

LC spontaneous chirality paper published in Soft Matter

December 1, 2021

In nematic liquid crystals with low twist elastic constant, spontaneous chirality changes the orientations of rod-like colloidal particles embedded in the fluid --- paper with Yodh (Penn) and Collings (Swarthmore) groups published in Soft Matter.

Crystallization on a cylinder paper published in ACS Applied Nano Materials

October 11, 2021

A new kind of defect found in crystallization on a cylinder (or: "the frustration of meeting yourself on the other side") --- paper with Manoharan and Rycroft groups (Harvard University) published in ACS Applied Nano Materials.