Soft Matter and Biological Systems

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Polymers provide physical realizations of stochastic processes such as Brownian motion or self-avoiding random walks. Other types of stochastic processes control the functioning of molecular motors and the folding of proteins. Some universal aspects of membranes (flexible films, biological membranes) are closely related to the random geometries studied in string theories and quantum gravity. When objects are charged (polyelectrolytes, charged membranes) or possess internal degrees of freedom, their physical and geometrical properties may be deeply modified: new phases may appear. Random polymer physics governs the complex interactions between chemically different monomers in biopolymers. One can study the denaturation of DNA or protein folding and RNA within this framework. For the latter, the classification of folded forms can be done using tools of topology (genus, Euler characteristic), leading to the development of powerful algorithms for structure prediction. In addition, most biopolymers carry charges, and the Coulomb interaction determines their universal properties of aggregation and solvation in the cell.

Research themes

Non-equilibrium transition paths

Non-equilibrium transition paths between different states of a complex system can be modeled by a constrained Langevin equation.  An exact mathematical formulation of this dynamics was found and applied to sampling the paths between folded and unfolded states of a protein. It was also applied to transitions amongst different knotted states in DNA, in presence of a topoisomerase

Knots in RNA molecules

DNA molecules are knotted and so are roughly 3% of proteins; we have performed a statistical study of known RNA structures in data bases and have concluded that RNA strands are not knotted, a fact that has far reaching biological and evolutionary implications

Amyloid fibrils

Amyloid fibrils are misfolded aggregates of proteins that are responsible of major diseases including diabetes, Alzheimer and Parkinson. Using CreateFibril, a computational framework we developed, we explore the stability of fibrils and demonstrate that nucleation of stable aggregates becomes energetically favorable beyond a certain size limit.  Using field-theoretical techniques, we have revisited the Onsager-Samaras theory of electrolytes surface tension for ions located at the interface of two media with different dielectric constants (such as water and air) and have calculated precisely the shape of the ionic density profile at the vicinity of  the interface.

Researchers involved

Permanent and emeritus researchers

Henri Orland      


PhD students



Postdoctoral researchers



Former staff members



Former Postdoctoral researchers


Former graduate students

Guillaume Le Treut      


Networking, collaborations & fundings



Our weekly seminar takes place every Monday at 14:00.



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Postdoctoral positions are available each year in the Fall. Check this page or contact any staff member of the group.



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The full postal adress of IPhT is: Institut de Physique Théorique,  CEA/Saclay, Bat 774 Orme des Merisiers, 91191 Gif-sur-Yvette Cedex, France.  

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#873 - Last update : 01/14 2019


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