Soft Matter: Overview of 2022

Welcome to the Soft Matter overview of 2022 blog post! We wanted to update you on some of the exciting happenings from Soft Matter from last year, plus a look ahead to 2023.

 

Editorial Board

In January 2022, Professor Alfred Crosby (University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA) commenced his stewardship of the journal as Editor-in-Chief of Soft Matter. His research interests lie generally in bio-inspired materials mechanics, especially topics including adhesion, nanoparticle assemblies, gels, thin films, fracture, hierarchical materials, and elastic instabilities.

Quote from Alfred Crosby on the future of the soft matter field

Additionally, in 2022 we welcomed Professor Guruswamy Kumaraswamy (IIT Bombay, India) as an Associate Editor and Professor Lorna Dougan (University of Leeds, UK) to the Editorial Board of Soft Matter.

 

Soft Matter Lectureship

Profile picture of Xuanhe ZhaoWe announced Professor Xuanhe Zhao (MIT, USA) as the winner of the 2022 Soft Matter Lectureship. This annual award was established in 2009 to honour an early-stage career scientist who has made a significant contribution to the soft matter field. The mission of Zhao Lab is to advance science and technology on the interfaces between humans and machines for addressing grand societal challenges in health and sustainability. To learn more about Xuanhe’s research have a look at some of his recent publications in Soft Matter, and you can also check out articles from our previous lectureship winners in our lectureship winners collection.

 

 

Nominations are currently open for the 2023 Soft Matter Lectureship; these will close on 28 February 2023. Full details on who is eligible and how to nominate, along with further details on selection and previous winners can be found on our website.

Image asking who will you nominate for the Soft Matter Lectureship

 

Soft Matter Emerging Investigators

Soft Matter is proud to spotlight our ongoing Emerging Investigators Series. Our Emerging Investigators are at the early stages of their independent careers and invited for this collection in recognition of their potential to influence future directions in the field. Congratulations to all the featured researchers on their important work so far!

Click here to read the collection Click here to meet the scientists

Do you know any exceptional early career researchers in the area of soft matter who you would recommend for this collection – you can nominate them now! Information on eligibility and how to nominate can be found on our blog.

 

Themed collections

Recently published and ongoing themed collections in Soft Matter are shown below. Browse all past collections on our platform, and see our upcoming collections on our calls for submissions page. We will be announcing more collections during the year, so keep a look out!

  • Soft Matter Emerging Investigator series
  • Soft matter aspects of cancer. Guest Edited by Anna Taubenberger (Technische Universität Dresden) and Lele Tanmay (Texas A&M University)
  • Polymer networks with companion journal Polymer Chemistry. Guest Edited by (Yukikazu Takeoka (Nagoya University), Matsumoto Akira (Tokyo Medical & Dental University), Akira Kakugo (Hokkaido University), Jian Ping Gong (Hokkaido University) and Alfred Crosby (University of Massachusetts Amherst)
  • Soft Robotics. Guest Edited by Anand Mishra (Cornell University), Zhihong Nie (Fudan University), Jamie Paik (EPFL) and Rob Shepherd (Cornell University)
  • Honorary collection for Thomas P. Russell with companion journals Journal of Materials Chemistry A and Nanoscale. Guest Edited by Zhiqun Lin (Georgia Institute of Technology), Xiaodan Gu (University of Southern Mississippi), Ilja Gunkel (Adolphe Merkle Institute), Duyeol Ryu (Yonsei University), Jiun-Tai Chen (National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University) and Jodie Lutkenhaus (Texas A&M University)

 

Open Access

The Royal Society of Chemistry has announced that all 31 fully-owned hybrid journals, including Soft Matter, have been approved as “Transformative Journals” with cOAlition S, an international consortium of research funding and performing organisations. Find out more about our strive towards 100% Open Access here.

 

#RSCPoster: Save the date

Banner announcing the return of #RSCPoster#RSCPoster is a global Twitter Poster Conference, held entirely online over the course of 24 hours. The event brings together the global chemistry community to network with colleagues across the world and at every career stage, share their research and engage in scientific debate.

The 2023 #RSCPoster Twitter Conference will be held from 12:00 (UTC) 28 February 2023 to 12:00 (UTC) 1 March 2023.

 

How you can help…

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you in addition to our authors, reviewers and readers for their support throughout 2022. Here are some of the ways in which you can continue to make a positive contribution to Soft Matter.

  • Submit to one of our open themed collections and encourage your colleagues to submit.
  • If you are organising a conference or virtual event, please do let us know if you would like to arrange mutual promotion between the conference and Soft Matter. We can offer poster prizes, social media and blog promotion, and adverts in the journal and on the journal web page.
  • Read our recent articles and follow the latest news on the Soft Matter blog and on our Facebook and Twitter
  • Send your best research to Soft Matter.
  • Sign up to be a reviewer for Soft Matter.
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Soft Matter Emerging Investigator – Jeremy Cho

Jeremy Cho is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). Previously, he was a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University in the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department where he studied water transport and solid mechanics of granular hydrogel systems. He received his PhD and SM in mechanical engineering from MIT where he focused on phase-change heat transfer and interfacial phenomena. He received his BSE in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan. In 2022, he received the National Science Foundation CAREER and the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund Doctoral New Investigator awards. As he is originally from Hawaiʻi, Jeremy named his group “Da Kine Lab” from Hawaiian Pidgin as the term is a placeholder similar to “whatchamacallit” representing the very diverse range of research topics he pursues: liquid-vapor phase-change phenomena, heat and mass transfer, interfacial and wetting phenomena, surfactant chemistry, and polymer physics.

 

Find out more about his work via:

Website: dakine.sites.unlv.edu

LinkedIn: Jeremy Cho – Assistant Professor – University of Nevada-Las Vegas | LinkedIn

Read Jeremy Cho’s Emerging Investigator article http://xlink.rsc.org/?doi=10.1039/D2SM01215D

 

How do you feel about Soft Matter as a place to publish research on this topic?

To me, Soft Matter, is the catch-all journal for fields that are near and dear to me: polymers, mechanics, and transport. This is my third Soft Matter paper—and the journal has a special place in my heart as it is where I published my first paper with my own lab group since becoming faculty. I look forward to continuing to publish in Soft Matter and getting better connected with its highly diverse readers.

What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment and what do you find most challenging about your research?

Actually, some of the most challenging things can be the most exciting parts. We deal with a lot of polymer theory and thermodynamics so we try to visualize how polymer strands behave—they’re too small to just fire up a microscope and observe. These are very difficult thought experiments, but over the course of many discussions and drawings with students and colleagues and poring over the literature, I found that analogies can be incredibly helpful. We end up coming up with pretty hilarious analogies—often with food—that we feel really illustrates certain concepts in a very obvious way. With this paper, it was a noodles as polymer strands analogy. And the analogy went deeper where if you imagine that if you are eating the noodles in a bowl of noodle soup, the volume fraction of noodles diminishes, loosening up the mixture—akin to a hydrogel becoming softer and permeable. I always felt that just throwing up an equation can only do so much. Being able to convey an understanding in a way that is relatable to the co-authors, readers, your family members, and really anyone is such a challenging yet exciting task. Nonetheless, I believe being an effective scientific communicator, both to our field and the public, is an important duty.

In your opinion, what are the most important questions to be asked/answered in this field of research?

Sometimes, the best questions come from non-scientists who ask me about what the work in our field means. It helps us define a purpose for our research. I also believe it is important for us, in the field, to ask each other to “explain it like we’re five” as a constant check on the familiarity of our understanding on a topic.

Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?

Starting a brand new research group is tough! Getting your students to immediately understand your past work and continue it in their own way is something that doesn’t just happen as smoothly as an Olympic baton handoff. I would say that showing your passion and enthusiasm for a topic or skill set really does rub off on your students and eventually they will find their way.

 

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Soft Matter Emerging Investigator – Morgan Stefik

Morgan Stefik is an Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of South Carolina and is the Founding Director of the South Carolina SAXS Collaborative. He obtained a BE degree in Materials Engineering from California Polytechnic State University in 2005 and a PhD degree in Materials Science from Cornell University in 2010. He then completed postdoctoral research at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. His accolades include a National Science Foundation CAREER Award in 2018, recognition as an Emerging Investigator by the Journal of Materials Chemistry A in 2017, a Breakthrough Star Award from the University of South Carolina in 2018, election to the council of the International Mesostructured Materials Association in 2018, selection as an ACS PMSE division Young Investigator in 2020, recognition as an Early Career Scholar by the Journal of Materials Research in 2022, a Garnet Apple Award for Teaching Innovation from the University of South Carolina in 2022, and a Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg Fellowship in 2022.  Morgan can be found on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/morganstefik

 

Read Morgan’s Emerging Investigator article http://xlink.rsc.org/?doi=10.1039/D2SM00513A

 

What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment and what do you find most challenging about your research?

I am most excited about kinetic-control broadly and particularly as applied to polymer assemblies. Rather than finding the singular equilibrium arrangement at some condition, kinetic-control opens up the possibility to make infinite different configurations.  Some of these new configurations can often enable new and useful properties or help solve existing problems. Reproducibility is a significant challenge with kinetic-control since such processes are inherently pathway-dependent and one often does not know which processing parameters are important at the beginning. Furthermore, many of the characterization techniques are only convenient at the end of processing which makes it that much more difficult to figure out what was happening throughout the entire processing timeline.  The tremendous potential for new and exciting capabilities, however, make this challenge worthy of attention from my perspective.

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Soft Matter Emerging Investigator – Ting Ge

Ting Ge is an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of South Carolina. He earned his BS degree in 2007 from the University of Science and Technology of China followed by a Ph. D. degree in 2013 from Johns Hopkins University. Subsequently, he worked as a post-doctoral researcher in the Research Triangle of North Carolina in the USA, first at UNC-Chapel Hill and then at Duke University. He is interested in investigating the microscopic origin of the macroscopic behaviour of various soft matter systems. A combination of molecular simulations and theory is employed in his research activities.

They can be found on Twitter @TingGe15

Read Ting Ge’s Emerging Investigator article http://xlink.rsc.org/?doi=10.1039/D2SM00731B

 

 

 

How do you feel about Soft Matter as a place to publish research on this topic?

The interdisciplinary feature of Soft Matter makes it an ideal place for publishing my research on the force-driven active dynamics of nanorods in polymeric fluids. The microscopic insights from the combined computational and theoretical research are anticipated to intrigue the readers of Soft Matter across different disciplines, such as the material scientists who study the force-driven processing of functional nanorod-containing polymer composites and the biomedical engineers who develop nanorod-based techniques for drug delivery and imaging.

What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment and what do you find most challenging about your research?

The most exciting aspect of my research is the elucidation of the microscopic origin of the macroscopic behavior of various soft matter systems. The goal is achieved through the combination of molecular simulations that have unparalleled access to detailed microscopic information and theoretical modeling that delineate the hierarchy of multiple time and length scales. Topics currently investigated include (1) the effects of polymer topology on the thermodynamics, rheology, and mechanics of polymeric materials, (2) the transport of nanoscale objects in complex polymeric environments, as well as (3) the scale-bridging physics in the fracture behavior of thermoplastics and elastomers. The most challenging aspect of these research topics is making close connections to the synthesis, characterization, and measurements of the relevant soft matter systems in real experiments, both in the setup of a sound model for the molecular simulations and theory and in the comparison between the simulation, theory, and experiments.

In your opinion, what are the most important questions to be asked/answered in this field of research?

In my opinion, the most important questions in the research on nanoscale transport in a complex soft matter environment should target the active and far-from-equilibrium nature of a soft matter environment commonly present in living systems, which differ distinctively from the passive and equilibrium nature of many synthetic soft matter materials. One example is the diffusion of virus nanoparticles through a mucus gel network which is essential in preventing lung infection.

Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?

Starting my research group in January 2020 right ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic was not an easy task. I would love to share one quote with my fellow scientists, “The world’s most precious resource is the persistent and passionate human mind”.

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Soft Matter Emerging Investigator – Lorenzo Di Michele

Lorenzo completed his undergraduate and master’s degrees in Physics at the University of L’Aquila (Abruzzo, Italy) in 2010, before moving to the Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge to start his PhD in soft condensed matter physics. After graduating in 2013, Lorenzo took up an Oppenheimer Early Career Research Fellowship, followed by a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellowship in 2016 and a Royal Society University Research Fellowship in 2018. The following year, Lorenzo moved to the Department of Chemistry at Imperial College London where he was promoted to the post of Senior Lecturer, before returning to the University of Cambridge Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology in 2022. Lorenzo’s research group, supported by the Royal Society, an ERC Starting Grant, and funding from UK research councils (EPSRC, BBSRC), applies the toolkit of nucleic acid nanotechnology to designing advanced biomimetic systems, biophysical models, and tackling challenges in biomedicine. They can be found on Twitter @DiMicheleLAB1 

 

Read Lorenzo’s Emerging Investigator article http://xlink.rsc.org/?doi=10.1039/D2SM00863G

 

How do you feel about Soft Matter as a place to publish research on this topic?

Our research group uses DNA nanotechnology to build advanced biomimetic systems: from nanostructures that imitate membrane proteins to whole “synthetic cells” – micro robots designed to reproduce responses typically observed in biological cells.  This research area, sometimes referred to as “bottom-up synthetic biology” is very multidisciplinary, rooted in concepts of biophysics, soft condensed matter, statistical mechanics, physical chemistry, nanotechnology and molecular biology. Our aim is to make our work accessible to scientists working across all these disciplines, and Soft Matter is among the very few journals that can reach out to such a diverse audience. Soft Matter is thus a great venue for our research!

What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment and what do you find most challenging about your research?

I am really excited about the open-ended nature of my group’s research area. Biological systems have evolved for billions of years to display an extremely rich array of functionalities and behaviours. We aim to re-create some of these responses, but there are so many to choose from, each posing different challenges and requiring different solutions. I find this very stimulating!  Still, this freedom to explore is also challenging for me: some self-control is needed to avoid branching out in too many directions and losing focus!

In your opinion, what are the most important questions to be asked/answered in this field of research?

The most urgent question in the field, in my opinion, is around the issue of integration: how do we make components developed by different groups, to produce different responses, compatible with each other?  We can now establish many (relatively) simple responses in synthetic cells, such as synthesis of molecules, directed motion, and control over the properties of synthetic membranes which we address in our contribution to the special issue. In biological cells, however, these responses occur in a highly coordinated fashion, which is critical for more complex behaviours such as decision making, adaptation and evolution. We are still largely unable to achieve this degree of integration in biomimetic systems, as different responses often rely on incompatible components. To tackle this challenge, the community should come together and make an effort towards enhancing cross-compatibility.

Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?

Follow your passions and intuition when it comes to choosing a field of research – all other considerations are irrelevant if you do not find your own work inspiring.

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2023 Soft Matter Lectureship – Open for nominations

Do you know an early-career researcher who deserves recognition for their contribution to the soft matter field?

 

Soft Matter is pleased to announce that nominations are now being accepted for its 2023 Lectureship award and will close on 28 February 2023. This annual award was established in 2009 to honour an early-stage career scientist who has made a significant contribution to the soft matter field.

 

Soft Matter lectureship annpuncement - asking who will you nominate?

 

Eligibility

To be eligible for the lectureship, candidates should meet the following criteria:

  • Be an independent researcher, PhD students postdoctoral research associates are not eligible
  • Be actively pursuing research within the soft matter field, and have made a significant contribution to the field
  • Be at an early stage of their independent career (this should typically be within 12 years of attaining their doctorate or equivalent degree, but appropriate consideration will be given to those who have taken a career break, work in systems where their time period to independence may vary or who followed an alternative study path)

 

How to nominate

Nominations must be made via email to softmatter-rsc@rsc.org, and include the following:

  • The name, affiliation and contact details of the nominee, nominator and referee
  • An up-to-date CV of the nominee (1-3 A4 page maximum length)
  • A letter of recommendation from the nominator (500 words maximum length)
  • A supporting letter of recommendation from a referee (500 words maximum length). This could be from the nominee’s postdoc, PhD supervisor or academic mentor for instance
  • The nominator must confirm that to the best of their knowledge, their nominee’s professional standing is as such that there is no confirmed or potential impediment to them receiving the Lectureship

Please note:

  • Self-nomination is not permitted
  • The nominee must be aware that he/she has been nominated for this lectureship
  • Previous winners and current Soft Matter Editorial Board members are not eligible
  • As part of the Royal Society of Chemistry, we have a responsibility to promote inclusivity and accessibility in order to improve diversity. Where possible, we encourage each nominator to consider nominating candidates of all genders, races, and backgrounds. Please see the RSC’s approach to Inclusion and Diversity.

 

Selection

  • All eligible nominated candidates will be assessed by a judging panel made up of the Soft Matter Editorial Board, any Editorial Board members with a conflict of interest will be ineligible for the judging panel.
  • The judging panel will consider the following core criteria:
    • Excellence in research, as evidenced in reference to originality and impact
    • Quality of publications, patents or software
    • Innovation
    • Professional standing
    • Independence
    • Collaborations and teamwork
    • Evidence of promising potential
    • Other indicators of esteem indicated by the nominator
  • In any instance where multiple nominees are judged to be equally meritorious in relation to these core criteria, the judging panel will use information provided on the nominee’s broader contribution to the chemistry community as an additional criterion. Examples of this could include: involvement with RSC community activities, teaching or demonstrating, effective mentorship, service on boards, committees or panels, leadership in the scientific community, peer reviewing, promotion of diversity and inclusion, advocacy for chemistry, public engagement and outreach.

 

Previous winners

2022 – Xuanhe Zhao, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA

2021 – Silvia Marchesan, University of Trieste, Italy

2020 – Valeria Garbin, Delft University of Technology, Netherlands

2019 – Timothy J White, University of Colorado, USA

2018 – Susan Perkin, University of Oxford, UK

2017 – Daeyeon Lee, University of Pennsylvania, USA

2016 – Damien Baigl, Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris, France

2015 – Lucio Isa, ETH Zürich, Switzerland

2014 – Eric Dufresne, Yale University, USA

2013 – Eric Furst, University of Delaware, USA

2012 – Patrick Doyle, MIT, USA

2011 – Michael J. Solomon, University of Michigan, USA

2010 – Bartosz Grzybowski, UNIST, Republic of Korea

2009 – Emanuela Zaccarelli, University of Rome, Italy

 

Nominations deadline: 28 February 2023

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Soft Matter Emerging Investigator – Lei Bao

Lei Bao is currently a Senior Lecturer in Chemical and Environmental Engineering at RMIT University, Australia. She received her PhD in the College of Chemistry and Molecular Sciences (CCMS) of Wuhan University, China and was awarded the 2014 Australia Endeavour Fellowship to pursue her postdoctoral studies in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Melbourne, Australia. She held an RMIT Vice-Chancellor Fellowship in 2015 and is a recipient of the prestigious Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award. Her multidisciplinary work is centred on solving energy, environment and health-related challenges through controllable design and engineering of nanomaterials. The research team she leads at RMIT focuses on surface and colloidal engineering with directions in confined nanocarbon synthesis and assembly for energy conversions as well as in the development of biocompatible multifunctional nanocomposites for biomedical applications. They can be found on Twitter @NanocarbonLei, on LinkedIn and online via their website.

 

 

Read Lei’s Emerging Investigator article http://xlink.rsc.org/?doi=10.1039/D2SM00557C

 

How do you feel about Soft Matter as a place to publish research on this topic?

Soft Matter provides an excellent platform for researchers from physics, chemistry, materials and engineering to exchange thoughts and discoveries. Our research on nanocarbon assembly lies in the intersection area of fluid dynamics, colloidal engineering and interfacial science. I feel very excited to share our findings with the interdisciplinary readership of Soft Matter and hope it will spark more discussion and collaboration on this research topic.

What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment and what do you find most challenging about your research?

Incorporating nanocarbon materials into electronic devices has been considered a promising approach for developing next-generation devices with high efficiency and high sensitivity. The way to integrate these nanomaterials into the device is critical for functionalities and properties. I am excited to see how our research could deepen the understanding of physical chemistry phenomena, leading to the development of a simple and robust technique to controllably arrange nanocarbons into different structures on surfaces for potential device fabrications. For the assembly of nanocarbon materials with ultrasmall dimensions, such as a few nanometers-sized carbon dots, the biggest challenge is to employ a direct visualisation technique to understand the dynamics of their assembly process. 

In your opinion, what are the most important questions to be asked/answered in this field of research?

The ultimate goal of nanomaterial assembly is to precisely control and engineer the structures for design applications. Hence, the mechanism behind the assembly process and how the assembly structures induce different properties are the important questions to be addressed.

Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?

Research is fun and can be challenging sometimes so find your support systems, such as your colleagues or mentors, who are willing to share their experiences and provide genuine feedback to you.

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Soft Matter Emerging Investigator – Andrea Scotti


Andrea Scotti obtained his PhD in 2015 from ETH Zürich (Switzerland) performing his research between the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) and the Georgia Institute of Technology (GaTech, USA). His PhD thesis was awarded with the Young Scientist Prize of the Swiss Neutron Scattering Society. After a first postdoc at Lund University, he moved to Aachen where in 2017 he started his Alexander Von Humboldt fellowship. Since 2019, he has been a Junior Group Leader at the Institute of Physical Chemistry at the RWTH Aachen university. The main subject of his research is experimental soft matter, with particular focus on the relationship between microscopic architecture of soft building blocks, e.g. microgels, and the macroscopic response of a soft material, both in three and two dimensions. The experimental tools he uses include scattering (neutron, X-ray and light), reflectometry, rheology, computer simulations, interfacial techniques (Langmuir-Blodgett trough) and microscopy techniques (confocal, atomic force).

 

Read Andrea’s Emerging Investigator article “Experimental determination of the bulk moduli of hollow nanogels

 

1. How do you feel about Soft Matter as a place to publish research on this topic?

For interdisciplinary studies between the fields of physics, chemistry, and biology, I have found Soft Matter to be one of the best journals in which to disseminate our results, as well as to see what is new in the field of colloidal science.

2. What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment and what do you find most challenging about your research?

My main interest lies in understanding the ordering of soft material under flow, specifically what is the role of the softness of the individual particles or macromolecules on the overall macroscopic properties of the material. Now we are able to produce soft particles, in particular micro- and nanogels, with different internal structures and shapes. The main challenge is to isolate what are the key characteristics of a particle (e.g. elastic moduli, architecture, shape) that have the dominant effect on the flow and equilibrium phase behaviour of the solutions.

3. In your opinion, what are the most important questions to be asked/answered in this field of research?

One of the main questions is how we can define the idea of softness in a quantitative and rigorous way. This is fundamental to describe its effects on a material’s properties, but also to build bridges between different fields. For instance, is the softness that plays a role in the flow properties of a solution of nanogels the same that affects the flow of blood cells? How soft are viruses compared to other synthetic soft colloids? Answering these questions will allow us to understand the fundamental laws governing different systems. This can pave the way to both a better understanding of soft and condensed matter, but also to the development of synthetic materials that can better mimic biologically-relevant compounds.

4. Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?

You should always look for discussions with your colleagues and other researchers. Some of my best work has been the result of spontaneous conversations at conferences, seminars and workshops, which have seeded fruitful long-lasting international collaborations.

 

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Soft Matter Emerging Investigator – Richard Mandle

Profile picture of Richard MandleDr. Richard Mandle was awarded BSc and MSc degrees in Chemistry from the University of Hull. He completed his PhD in Chemistry under the supervision of Professor John Goodby FRS at the University of York in 2013 (thesis title: “The Nitro Group in Liquid Crystals”). In postdoctoral positions he developed new materials for consumer LCD devices and worked on developing materials that exhibit new nematic phase types (York), as well as on auxetic elastomers (Leeds). Dr. Mandle has published over 80 peer reviewed journal articles, was awarded the Young Scientist award of the British Liquid Crystal Society in 2017 and the Vorländer Lectureship of the German Liquid Crystal Society in 2022. In 2022 Dr. Mandle was awarded a prestigious UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship which he holds as a joint appointment between the School of Chemistry and the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Leeds.

 

 

Read Richard’s Emerging Investigator article ‘A new order of liquids: polar order in nematic liquid crystals

 

How do you feel about Soft Matter as a place to publish research on this topic?

The nascent field of ferroelectric nematics sits at a sort of tricritical point between chemistry, physics and mathematics; Soft Matter cuts right across these scientific disciplines and beyond, and so is a really good fit for this sort of work.

 

What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment and what do you find most challenging about your research?

Ferroelectric nematics are capable of all sorts of things that no other known state of matter can do, so understandably there is huge excitement about possible applications. We are getting pretty good at developing new materials, but relating the physical properties back to molecular structure is a bit of a black box at the moment.

 

In your opinion, what are the most important questions to be asked/answered in this field of research?

I think it is fair to say that the discovery of polar order and ferroelectricity in fluids looks to be of the highest significance. Probably the biggest question right now is “how universal is polar ordering, and this new phase of matter?” is it restricted to a few odd molecules, or are we dealing with a more general phenomenon? Right now, evidence points to the latter, which is really important given that there is a big expectation that this discovery will end up in all manner of applications.

 

Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?

Your job is only one part of your life and, in the far distant future, when you retire it’s gone. Make time for the stuff that really matters.

 

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Soft Matter Emerging Investigator – Charles Dhong

Profile picture of Charles DhongCharles Dhong is currently an Assistant Professor in Materials Science and Biomedical Engineering at University of Delaware. He received a PhD from Johns Hopkins University followed by postdoctoral studies at University of California, San Diego. His research group is interested in measuring or controlling the mechanical forces at biological interfaces. Biological interfaces, ranging from cells to the human sense, are complex because they are soft and patterned. Although they are complex, controlling these biological interfaces are important in a range of applications, including basic biology, cancer detection, and virtual reality for the sense of touch. To achieve these goals, we build devices, perform simulations and modeling, and incorporate new materials including conductive polymers and graphene sensors. He can be found on Twitter @CharlesDhong.

 

Read Charles’ Emerging Investigator article ‘Controlling fine touch sensations with polymer tacticity and crystallinity

 

How do you feel about Soft Matter as a place to publish research on this topic?

As we work on using materials chemistry to control touch, Soft Matter has been an excellent venue for publishing work at the intersection of materials chemistry, interfaces, and human psychology. Although we believe touch has many aspects that are traditional to soft matter mechanics and materials, the inclusion of human subjects and psychophysics requires an appreciation for interdisciplinary research. At the same time, the fundamental and rigorous approaches of research in Soft Matter help ground our work in established adhesion and interfaces science.

 

What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment and what do you find most challenging about your research?

We are excited to see how many everyday textures and feelings we can create just by changing materials chemistry. With emerging areas of virtual reality, and neglected areas of accessibility aids for people with low vision and blindness, touch still remains an open area of exploration. One of the most challenging parts is that coming from a surface science background, working with human subjects data can be inherently variable. However, replacing human participants with machine mimics often does not replicate key parts of tactile perception. We still need ways to quantify and describe touch in ways that are unbiased, consistent, yet still remain useful.

 

In your opinion, what are the most important questions to be asked/answered in this field of research?

I think the field is wide open, but I believe an important part of touch is to develop a standard and basis to communicate findings. Right now, unless you physically try the device of another lab, it is difficult to gauge progress. While perception is subjective, other fields like vision research have clearer standards or metrics to compare work. However, touch is inherently difficult because the human finger not only senses touch but is also an active participant in generating stimulus through mechanical forces: How you touch an object changes the forces and tactile stimuli generated.  In other senses, like vision, the eye does not influence the source of stimuli, e.g. a light bulb will emit the same stimuli to any subject.

 

Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?

People say that side projects can suddenly morph into key directions for a lab, and that’s been true for us. Classical areas today often started as brand new niche concepts–maybe as a side project–and most communities are open to new ideas or directions.

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