Professor Cait MacPhee holding a sample of slime.

I am a Soft Matter and Biological Physicist, which means I study anything that wobbles when you poke it.

Professor Cait MacPhee

Biological materials are just matter, and matter has to obey the laws of physics. We’re trying to understand the physics of biological systems, to see if we can tease out and predict the behaviour of biological matter on the basis of physics principles. More specifically, I try to understand how biological molecules assemble themselves. My research is a mix of fundamental, discovery science and applied research. My science is also very collaborative, in that I work closely with biological scientists. I initially trained in biochemistry and immunology, but I moved across to physics when biology became just too complicated.

I went into science when I worked out that I wasn’t good enough to be a professional musician. I come from a family of scientists, so I’d grown up with it, and I’d combined science subjects with my music at school. I was educated in Australia, which enabled me to keep my interests very broad. So, initially, I fell into it. But I fell in love with experimental science. I love the mechanics of designing an experiment
that will, in an ideal world, give a clear answer. I really enjoy gathering all the puzzle pieces, and there is absolutely nothing like that feeling you get when the pieces click together and suddenly you understand something that you’ve been trying to figure out for years. And now you know something that no one else on the planet knows until you go out and tell them all about it.

Cait is holding ‘gloop’ or ‘slime’ – a viscoelastic material that behaves like both a liquid and a solid.