Jeff Chen

Jeff Chen
Professor, University Research Chair
Location: PHY 367
Phone: 519-888-4567 x45361


Soft matter is a cross disciplinary research field involving physics, chemistry, biology, and materials science. Dr. Chen uses basic tools such as statistical physics, field theory, neural networks, and computer simulations to study structural formation in polymers and liquid crystals.

Research Interests

  • Condensed matter physics theory
  • Monte Carlo and molecular dynamics computer simulations
  • Biological physics
  • Polymers and biopolymers
  • Condensed Matter
  • Biochemistry and Biophysics
  • Soft Matter

Scholarly Research

Soft matter is a cross disciplinary research field involving physics, chemistry, biology, and materials science. It studies physical systems that can be deformed relatively easily in response to external and internal physical and chemical conditions. Examples include colloids, polymers, gels, liquid crystals, and a number of biological systems. These materials compete with and sometimes outperform the traditional solid-state materials. Soft matter theory is a field that has seen vast new developments in the last half century, in both fundamental and applied research. My research group has built a comprehensive soft-matter-theory research program that covers a number of challenging problems in polymers, membranes, and liquid crystals. The primary thrust is to establish a fundamental understanding of the structures, states, and dynamics of soft matter systems such as semiflexible polymers, as well as liquid crystals and their defect structures. The main research tool is statistical physics, which includes scaling theory, Monte Carlo and molecular dynamics simulations, and field-theory simulations. Example Problems Block copolymers are basic building blocks that can be used to design exquisitely tailored materials with unparalleled control over nanoscale-domain geometry, packing symmetry, and chemical composition. Semiflexibility is a factor that plays a crucial role in the conformational properties of wormlike polymer chains. Formulating as well as solving the self-consistent field theory for wormlike copolymers that take semiflexibility into account has long been known as one of the main challenges in polymer physics. We developed a numerical technique to calculate the phase diagram where semiflexibility is one of the additional tuning parameter beyond the classical phase diagram of flexible diblock copolymers. [Y. Jiang and J. Z. Y. Chen, Phys. Rev. Lett. 110, 138305 (2013); J. Z. Y. Chen, Prog. Polym Science 54-55, 3 (2016)] In recent years, a whole body of knowledge has been generated on defect structures resulting from placing a liquid crystal within a finite geometry that frustrates the director field. The natural tendency of forming a uniform bulk nematic configuration is interrupted by the curvature of the embedded surface or boundary conditions of the confining walls. We studied the extended Onsager model that contains identifiable physical parameters instead of phenomenological parameters used in Landau-de Gennes and Frank elastic models. We theoretically presented a unified phase diagram for the evolution of defect structures from the isotropic-nematic transition to a deep nematic state, over a wide range of parameter space. For the first time, we captured the results observed in recent Monte Carlo simulations and calculated from the Frank model all within one unified physical picture. [W.-Y. Zhang, Y. Jiang and J. Z. Y. Chen, Phys. Rev. Lett. 108, 057801 (2012). Q. Liang, S. Ye, P. Zhang, and J. Z. Y. Chen, J. Chem. Phys. 141, 244901(2014)]


  • 1988 PhD Physics, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland, U.S.A.
  • 1982 BSc Physics, Fudan University, Shanghai, China


  • 2015, Fellow, American Physical Society


  • 2008-2016, Physics and Astronomy Departmental Chair, University of Waterloo
  • 2002-2007, Associate Dean of Computing, Faculty of Science, University of Waterloo

Affiliations and Volunteer Work

  • Cross-appointed faculty, Department of Chemistry
  • Affiliate member, Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics


  • NANO 600 - Introduction to Nanotechnology
    • Taught in 2022
  • NE 451 - Simulation Methods
    • Taught in 2019
  • PHYS 263 - Classical Mechanics and Special Relativity
    • Taught in 2022, 2023
  • PHYS 359 - Statistical Mechanics
    • Taught in 2020, 2021, 2022

* Only courses taught in the past 5 years are displayed.

Selected/Recent Publications

  • Chen, J.Z.Y. Theory of wormlike polymer chains in confinement, Prog. Poly. Sci (2016) volume numbers 54-55, pp. 3-46.
  • Li, Y., Miao, H., Ma, H., Chen, J.Z.Y. Topological defects of tetratic liquid-crystal order on a soft spherical surface, Soft Matter (48) volume number 9, pp. 11461-11466.
  • Jiang, Y., Chen, J.Z.Y. Influence of Chain Rigidity on the Phase Behavior of Wormlike Diblock Copolymers, Phys Rev Lett. (2013), volume number 110, 138305(1)-138305(5).
  • Su, Y.C., Chen, J.Z.Y. A model of vesicle tubulation and pearling induced by adsorbing particles, Soft matter (20) volume number 11, pp. 4054-4060.
  • Meng, F., Chen, J.Z.Y., Doi, M., Ouyang, Z. The phase diagram and radial collapse of an inflated soft tube under twist, Soft Matter (35) volume number 11, pp. 7046-7052.