Soft (or fragile) materials are typically complex fluids, structurally characterized by hierarchical spatial organization of molecules (and macromolecules) at intermediate, or mesoscopic, length scales between the atomic scale (∼ 0.1 – 1 nm) and the macroscopic scale ( ∼ 1 mm or more). From a dynamic point of view, the interactions between its elementary components, although varied, are relatively weak and comparable to the thermal energy. This subtle balance between energy and entropy, observed in polymers, surfactants, liquid crystals and colloids, is what gives them a relative mechanical fragility and dynamic behavior in multiple time scales. And, most spectacularly, when dissipative structures are formed in soft matter out of thermodynamic equilibrium, emergent behaviors lead to the formation of biological matter and to life.
There is a wide variety of scientific programs at synchrotron light sources around the the world dedicated to biological and soft matter. The knowledge generated in these laboratories has been applied in the development of technologies for new drugs and vaccines, enzymes, new plastics and several complex fluids. The Soft and Biological Matter Division develops and operates experimental stations and support laboratories that allow the characterization of protein structures in atomic resolution with the MANACÁ beamline, or with the quantification of secondary structures in the CEDRO beamline, up to the 3D structure of cells and tissues and the dynamics of complex fluids in the CATERETÊ beamline, as well as making nanometer resolution infrared images in the IMBUIA beamline.