Summer School 2020: Physics of Biological Systems: From Emergent Collective behaviors to Functional Materials

  • 24 February, 2020
  • News

XXVII International Summer School ‘Nicolás Cabrera’

Physics of Biological Systems: From Emergent Collective behaviors to Functional Materials

Miraflores de la Sierra, Madrid, Sept. 5-9, 2020

Program and announcements

  • Tentative short program, available here.

Dates and announcements.

Scholarships will be announced on June 1st 2020. Registration before May 15 2020 is mandatory to apply for the scholarships.

Registration ends on July 1st 2020.


Access to the registration form here.

Scope and goals.

Natural selection has engineered sophisticated nano- and microscopic machines able to perform vital and complex biological processes such as directed transport of molecules, energy storage, tissue remodeling, wound healing and immune responses. To perform these processes, active systems transform energy into mechanical forces, thereby operating out-of-equilibrium. It is precisely the non-equilibrium nature of biological systems, which makes fascinating behaviors emerge, ranging from self-propulsion to collective behaviors, and including patterning formation. However, these behaviors strongly depend on their interaction with the environment, where the forces generated by these active systems can either stressed the environment or where the environment can serve as an energy sink. These environment-mediated interactions, which can be either physical or chemical, may result into coordinated behaviors. For example, the characteristic elements of these systems may be able to coordinate their movements or even their metabolic status through the environment. Therefore, understanding the physical principles that determine the interaction between active elements and their environment is crucial to develop functional materials that take advantage of these behaviors.

The development of functional materials capable of actively responding to external stimuli is thus an open frontier in material science. The dynamical properties of these responsive materials to deformations or sustained movements exhibit striking similarities to those exhibited by living systems. Therefore, the materials science community could be inspired by the behaviors of living matter to develop synthetic and versatile platforms that generate and control dynamically complex individual and collective behaviors. Can we thus use active matter systems to engineer novel responsive materials? Can we link the non-equilibrium physics inherent to living systems to material science in an attempt to apply dynamics and fluctuations to the design of smart materials?

This Summer School seeks bringing together researchers from the fields of biological physics, soft matter physics and material science to open a new avenue of biophysical soft matter research built on the knowledge gained over these years on both the building blocks and the fundamental interactions that drive the behavior of active systems. Understanding the dynamics of these elements enables the development of synthetic materials that either mimic behaviors found in living matter or exploit the elements to improve materials properties.


  • David A. Weitz, Harvard University, USA
  • Alfredo Alexander-Katz, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA.
  • Jordi Garcia-Ojalvo, Universidad Pompeu Fabra, Spain.
  • Terry Hwa, University of California San Diego, USA.
  • Dominique Langevin, Laboratoire de Physique des Solides, France.
  • Monica Olvera de la Cruz, Northwestern University, USA.
  • Alberto Fernandez-Nieves, Georgia Institute of Technology, USA.
  • Paulo E. Arratia, University of Pennsylvania, USA.
  • Damien Baigl, Ecole Normale Superieure, France.
  • Giuseppe Battaglia, University College London, UK.
  • Aránzazu del Campo, Liebniz Institute for new materials, Germany.
  • Alvaro Sanchez, Yale University, USA.
  • Tobias Bollenbach, Universität zu Köln, Germany.

History and venue

The International Summer School “Nicolás Cabrera”, funded by the BBVA Foundation, deals with current topics in materials science, condensed matter physics, nanophysics and biophysics since 1994. The School is a meeting point for numerous scientists all over the world, who share a few days in Madrid in a particularly pleasant and interacting environment.

The School is organized in the residence “La Cristalera” in Miraflores de la Sierra, a small village in the mountains near Madrid. There will be a welcome reception on Friday, Sep 4, with lectures taking place from the morning of Sunday, Sep 5, until lunch on Wednesday, Sep 9.


  • Juan L. Aragones (
  • Laura R. Arriaga (
  • Raul Guantes (