Biophysics and soft matter physics

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.

Any future significant critical-mass investment will build on this national community. Closer working between EPSRC and other funding agencies will facilitate interdisciplinary research and translation to use (e.g. via Technology Touching Life). Soft Matter Physics research should focus on both fundamental developments and pull-through to formulation and manufacturing.

Over the Delivery Plan period, we aim to have:

  • Invested 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
  • Built on and added 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 (e.g. 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/sectors (e.g. formulated products, pharmaceuticals, food, photonic systems, energy, understanding disease, diagnostics, analytical techniques, and new materials and devices) which will deliver against EPSRC's Healthy and Productive Nation Outcomes.

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. During the Delivery Plan period, we will investigate with the community how the portfolio has evolved and whether the current research area structure reflects this.


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 (Evidence source 1), more can be done to create more cohesion and a collaborative approach.

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 (Evidence source 2,3). Research in Soft Matter Physics has strong pull-through to both chemical engineering and formulation manufacturing (Evidence source 4,5), as demonstrated by engagement in the Future Formulation of Complex Products managed activity and the new 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. Users from a broad range of areas currently collaborate on EPSRC investments in Biophysics and Soft Matter Physics; maintaining and increasing this collaboration is vital.

This research area has the potential to contribute, through collaborative working, to the following EPSRC Ambitions in particular:

H4: Develop future therapeutic technologies

This research area will contribute to applications such as drug targeting and delivery.

H3: Optimise diagnosis and treatment

This research area will enable innovations in imaging and regenerative medicine.

H2: Improve prevention and public health

This research area aids understanding of cellular processes and disease, and development of antimicrobial coatings.

P1: Introduce the next generation of innovative and disruptive technologies

P3: Establish a new place for industry that is built upon a 'make it local, make it bespoke' approach

Pull-through from research to formulation and product design, along with the design of novel materials and devices, will benefit sectors such as the chemicals industry and also aid emergent scientific fields, for example.

  1. Physics of Life Network, From Molecules to Systems: Towards an Integrated Heuristic for Understanding the Physics of Life (PDF), (2015).
  2. EPSRC, The Importance of Engineering and Physical Sciences Research to Health and Life Sciences (PDF) ('the Maxwell review'), (2014).
  3. British Biophysical Society, New Horizons for British Biophysics (PDF), (2016).
  4. Chemistry Growth Strategy Group, Chemistry at Work: Strategy for Delivering Chemistry-Fuelled Growth of the UK Economy (PDF), (2013).
  5. Innovate UK Formulation Special Interest Group, Realising the Potential for Formulation in the UK (PDF), (2013).

Research area connections

This diagram shows the top 10 connections between Research Areas within the EPSRC research portfolio. The depth of the segment relates to value of grants and the width of the segment relates to the number of grants shared by those two Research Areas. Please click to see the related Research Area rationale.

Visualising our Portfolio (VoP)
Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships.

EPSRC support by research area in Biophysics and soft matter physics (GoW)
Search EPSRC's research and training grants.

Contact Details

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: Luke Boldock
Job title: Portfolio Manager
Department: Physical Sciences
Organisation: EPSRC
Telephone: 01793 444450