Universiteit Leiden

nl en

New professor Luca Giomi creates his own physics of living systems

Swarms of drones, pedestrians or the cells in your body. Those are all examples of active matter: materials whose building blocks can move autonomously. That’s what Luca Giomi studies. Giomi has been appointed Professor of theoretical physics in the area of soft matter and biological physics at the Leiden Institute of Physics (LION) as of 1 January 2024.

‘I started out studying theoretical soft matter physics. In other words, the physics of everything wet, squishy or floppy,’ Giomi begins. ‘However, around the time that I did my PhD, a new multidisciplinary field at the interface of physics, biology and mathematics was blossoming at a fast pace: the field of active matter. Active matter is the generic name we give to any material composed of smaller units that can autonomously move and exert forces. from cells to pedestrians, from self-propelled colloids to swarms of flying drones. I shifted my focus almost completely on that.’

‘A field of research that is young, exciting and unexplored’

‘That was, however, only a gateway to the main research effort of my group now: understanding the nuts and bolts of biological organisation. How do cells work individually and yet collectively towards a common goal?’ Giomi says. ‘One of my role models once told me how back in the '80s they could write papers over the weekend on all sorts of topics in soft matter physics. The field was so young, exciting and unexplored that any idea was potentially groundbreaking. I believe the same is true today for the physics of living systems. In my view, this is the field where genuinely new physics concepts will emerge in the next several years. It’s truly exciting to be working on this.’

Dutch adventure delayed two years

Giomi’s journey to Leiden was not without hurdles though. ‘When I received an offer to join LION, Alessandra, my wife and colleague at the Lorentz Institute, and I had just moved back to Italy, my home country. We had lived in the US for nine years and with a one-year-old baby, none of us was ready to hit the road again. So I asked to freeze my appointment. They had the generosity and the foresight to accept and when we finally arrived two years later, my wife and I were both eager to start our Dutch adventure.’

Although he is also a passionate rock climber and plays the electric bass, physics has always been a fixed guest in Giomi’s brain. ‘My long-time dream is to understand, dissect and predict the behaviour of biological matter across length scales. Early in one’s career, doing theoretical physics feels a bit like walking across a china store. Always careful not to break anything. Eventually though, you realise you can manipulate these sophisticated artefacts, until one day you find yourself creating your own piece of china in the shape and colours you have fantasised about. The process of creating my own physics is one of the most fun I have ever experienced.’

This website uses cookies.  More information.