Soft Matter Physics Division - Biophysics at the University of Leipzig University of Leipzig
ResearchGroups & Topics
Soft Matter Physics Division 
Research Groups
Bionic Biomaterials
Cellular Adhesion and Motility
Cellular Elasticity
Biotechnology and Biomedicine

Scientific Mission

Our Soft Matter Physics group focuses on a quantitative understanding of biological cell phenotype and function from a complex, emerging materials perspective encompassing all length scales from molecules to tissues, which places our group in a pioneering and leading position in the novel area Physics of Cancer.


As illustrated in our article "Emergent complexity of the cytoskeleton: from single filaments to tissues" [1], which is among the most read papers in Advances in Physics (IF 20.833) every year, the emphasis of the Soft Matter Physics group is on the  material properties of biological cells as key determinants of their character and functions, including tumor progression. This requires an integral approach that spans the length scales from molecules to tissues.  For this research the group is uniquely positioned by its ability to concurrently purify cytoskeletal proteins and have access to clinical tissue samples.

Changes in cell mechanics such as increased contractility are essential for metastatic invasiveness. Surprisingly, contractility of actin bundles cannot only be induced by molecular motors, but also by molecular crowding within the cytoplasm [2]. Based on an extension of thermal fluctuation spectroscopy, first direct measurements of the bending modulus of cell membranes revealed that the stiffness of membranes of mamma and cervix carcinoma decreases by an order of magnitude, which enhances cell motility [3, 4]. Novel thermorheological studies of the time-temperature superposition principle permit us to separate active and passive mechanical processes within cells [5, 6].

We have explained the down regulation of keratin that is characteristic to the epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), which induces cancer metastasis.  In carcinomas the loss of keratin softens cancer cells and thus increases their invasiveness [7]. Tumor biology attributes the escape of cancer cells from tumors to loss of cell-cell adhesion, i.e. the decrease of surface tension at the tumor margin. Our comprehensive study revealed that adhesion is not the main factor holding cancer cells back [8]. Cancer cell assemblies even do not behave allways as Newtonian fluids, which is a prerequisite for differential adhesion, and are in a jammed solid-like state [9]. The resulting hypothesis that the EMT is an unjamming transition has found broad, positive attention [10].

[1] F. Huber et al.: Advances in Physics, vol. 62(1) (2013)
[2] J. Schnauß et al.: Physical Review Letters, vol. 116, 108102 (2016)
[3] C. Händel et al.: New Journal of Physics, vol. 17, 083008 (2015)
[4] S. Braig et al.: New Journal of Physics, vol. 17, 083007 (2015)
[5] S. Schmidt et al.: New Journal of Physics, vol. 17, 073010 (2015)
[6] E. Warmt et al.: New Journal of Physics, vol. 17, 073009 (2015)
[7] K. Seltmann et al.: PNAS, vol. 110(46), 18507-18512 (2013)
[8] S. Pawlizak et al.: New Journal of Physics, vol. 14, 115012 (2012)
[9] K. D. Nnetu et al.: New Journal of Physics, vol. 17, 083007 (2015)
[10] D. T. Tambe et al.: New Journal of Physics, vol. 17, 091001 (2015)


University of Leipzig  |  Faculty of Physics and Earth Sciences  |  Peter Debye Institute for Soft Matter Physics
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