Michael Cates elected 19th Lucasian Professor

Professor Michael Cates FRS, FRSE, a distinguished theoretical physicist who is a world leader in the study of soft matter, has been elected the 19th holder of the Lucasian Professorship of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, succeeding Professor Michael Green.

Professor Cates is currently Professor of Natural Philosophy and Royal Society Research Professor at the University of Edinburgh.

Soft matter is a description of a large class of materials, such as polymers, gels, and liquid crystals, which lack the crystalline order of the solid state and are easily deformed by external forces, leading to complex and nonlinear behaviour requiring new mathematical insights for their description.

The field of soft matter is highly interdisciplinary, bringing together methods from areas such as elasticity, fluid mechanics, statistical mechanics, and computational science.  In recent years it has expanded to address many problems in biology, including the properties of cellular cytoskeletons and collective behaviour of motile cells.

Professor Cates is renowned for his work over the past thirty years on an extremely broad range of problems in soft matter, from the dynamics of `living polymers’ and polymer brushes to the nature of the glass transition, at which a previously liquid-like material locks into an amorphous solid structure.

He has also been instrumental in bringing large-scale computational methods to bear on highly nonequilibrium problems in soft matter, and often works closely with experimentalists in both formulating and testing theoretical predictions.

His work has been recognised by many major awards, including the Dirac Medal and Prize of the Institute of Physics, the Pierre Gille de Gennes Lecture Prize of the European Physical Journal and the Weissenberg Award of the European Society of Rheology.

More recently, Professor Cates has made important contributions to the burgeoning field of `active matter’, which explores the dynamics and self-organization of systems composed of self-propelled objects. 

These can range from engineered colloidal microparticles to swimming bacteria.

Peter Haynes, Head of the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, said: “The appointment of Michael Cates as Lucasian Professor continues the very distinguished tradition of that post. Professor Cates will bring a new and important scientific area to academic activities in our Department and his presence as Lucasian Professor will offer a whole range of new collaborative possibilities, both within our own Department and with several others in the University”

The Lucasian Professorship has an exceptionally long and distinguished history, established in 1663 and with previous holders including Isaac Newton (1669-1702), and, more recently, Paul Dirac (1932-1969), James Lighthill (1969-1979), Stephen Hawking (1979-2009) and Michael Green (2009-2013).

Professor Cates will take up the Lucasian Professorship on 1 July 2015.