Mike Cates, FRS

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Research Interests

Prof Cates' research is in the statistical mechanics of soft condensed matter.

This term refers to colloids, polymers, emulsions, foams, surfactant solutions, powders, liquid crystals, and similar materials. Domestic examples are (respectively) paint, engine oil, mayonnaise, shaving cream, shampoo, talc, and the slimy mess that arises when a bar of soap is left in contact with water. There are, of course, high-tech examples of all of these; and many soft materials also play key roles in biological processes.

Cates is renowned for creating statistical mechanical models of these systems, particularly in relation to their flow behaviour which can be dramatic. (An instance is wet corn-starch which flows freely at small stresses but if pushed hard, jams up.) This unusual flow behaviour stems from mesoscopic structure in the material and is often related to the overall geometry of the constituents (flexible chain molecules, colloidal hard spheres, etc.) rather than their chemical microstructure. Such universality allows progress to be made with simplified models that capture the essential physics without including all chemical detail. These models can then be addressed either analytically, or by simulation.

Mike Cates was appointed to the Chair of Natural Philosophy at Edinburgh in 1995 ('Natural Philosophy' being an archaic term for what we now call 'Physics'). In 2004 he became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. In 2007 he was appointed to a Royal Society Research Professorship, one of the most prestigious academic appointments in the UK, and was made FRS in the same year. In 2009 he won the Dirac Medal of the Institute of Physics and also received the Gold Medal of the British Society of Rheology. (Rheology is the science of flow.) In 2013 he won the Weissenberg Award of the European Society of Rheology and was also made an Honorary Fellow of Trinity College Cambridge. 


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