Ruprecht Karls Universität Heidelberg

Statistical Physics and Biophysics - Themes


The following is a selective list of themes, not meant as a full coverage of our research activities in this field, but to highlight for the non-expert reader a few important notions or topics and to provide corresponding entry points for the research groups list, to which you could go directly by clicking here.

Statistical physics

Many processes in nature are not deterministic, but occur in a stochastic fashion, be it for fundamental reasons, as in quantum phenomena, or effectively due to the large number of constituents, as in statistical mechanics. At the ITP, various groups are working on advancing the foundations of this field and on applying it to systems at the forefront of current research, like complex quantum systems or biological systems.

   Groups

Renormalization Group

Originally developed in the context of phase transitions, this approach allows us to study in a systematic way how the microscopic laws of physics lead to complex macroscopic behavior as one increases the length scale on which the system is studied. Today this approach is applied to many different systems of interest, including many-particle-systems and disordered systems. Renormalization group studies often require advanced mathematical tools or extensive computation, both of which are developed at the ITP.

   Groups

Physics of Biological Systems

Biological systems are the proof of principle that complex systems can have very useful functions, but due to their long evolutionary history they also pose the ultimate challenge for understanding a complex system from its physical basis. However, it is also clear that without physical concepts and methods, we will never be able to fully understand how biological systems work. In fact important aspects of living systems cannot be understood without developing new physics. For example, biological systems operate far from thermal equilibrium and advances in non-equilibrium statistical physics are essential to understand how biomolecules use thermal fluctuations for their function. ITP research groups investigate how the mechanics and fluctuations of biomolecules contribute to the functioning of biological systems. Special areas of research are the physics of DNA or force generation, propagation and sensing in the cytoskeleton.

   Groups

Computational physics

The power of today's computers has vastly increased our capability to deal with complex systems. Computational physics comes in many forms, like validating analytical solutions, numerically solving intractable equations, and simulating complex systems for which no constitutive equation is known. At the ITP, computational physics is used and further developed in all of these respects. Examples include the solution of large systems of differential equations, Monte Carlo simulations of biopolymers and biomembranes, and Brownian simulations of movement and adhesion of cells in the blood flow. Computational methods from statistical physics are also essential to process images and analyze complex data sets, for example for the chromatin distribution in the cell nucleus or the spatial organization of the actin cytoskeleton.

   Groups


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