Author Archive

Soft Matter Emerging Investigator – Shelby Hutchens

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Shelby Hutchens is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Science and Engineering. Her research interests span from ultrasoft polymeric materials characterization to plant-inspired motion. She received all her degrees in Chemical Engineering, Ph.D. and M.S. from Caltech and B.S. from Oklahoma State. She received an NSF CAREER award in 2017. She can be found on Twitter @ShelbyHutchens.

 

Read Shelby’s Emerging Investigator article “On the relationship between cutting and tearing in soft elastic solids” and check out all of the 2021 Soft Matter Emerging Investigator articles here.

 

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

Many excellent articles on soft fracture find their way into Soft Matter. The community of researchers interested in this topic really seems to keep an eye on the journal, so I think it’s a great place for our findings relating cutting and tearing in elastomeric solids. It’s a particularly useful venue when results seem to bridge subfields, for instance, continuum mechanics and macromolecular science. 

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

For myself, I am excited about finally starting to understand how various material and geometric elements contribute to an overall failure response in soft solids. This isn’t to say that I think this problem is fully solved or that others did not understand much of it already. I’m still somewhat new to failure so it’s been very rewarding to get to the point that I can describe phenomena in my own words and start to probe new hypotheses. The most challenging thing about my research is that the more I do it, the less I find that I actually know. It can be exciting as well as daunting. 

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

I don’t feel qualified to make any judgement since so many questions can seem incorrectly important or unimportant at any given time. With respect to soft solid fracture, I do think many interesting, fundamental, and likely important details remain to be understood in the failure of even simple, homogeneous solids with respect to predicting time-dependence, the effect of geometry (like needle insertion and puncture), and failure initiation, for example, from macromolecular architecture. Complications only increase when inhomogeneities and hierarchies come into play, as is the case in soft biological tissue. 

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

Even if you start behind or are a bit slow, just keep at it. You’ve probably heard the saying that Rome wasn’t built in a day, but even a single neighborhood wasn’t built in a day. And neighborhoods have a very meaningful impact on those living in them. 

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Soft Matter Emerging Investigator – Lauren Zarzar

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Lauren earned a B.A. in chemistry and a B.S. in economics from the University of Pennsylvania, a Ph.D. in chemistry from Harvard University, and completed a postdoc at MIT. Currently, she is an assistant professor at Penn State with appointments in the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. Her group’s research interests include the study of responsive systems, active matter, tunable optical materials, and laser direct writing of nanomaterials. She can be found on Twitter @laurenzarzar.

 

Read Lauren’s Emerging Investigator article “Interfacially-adsorbed particles enhance the self-propulsion of oil droplets in aqueous surfactant” and check out all of the 2021 Soft Matter Emerging Investigator articles here.

 

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

Soft Matter is a great journal to publish and follow exciting research in areas such as a colloids, polymers, emulsions, and soft interfaces.

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

Right now I am excited to understand how to control the motion and interactions between out-of-equilibrium materials such as droplets by using chemical gradients. A challenge is that many of the driving forces (like the chemical gradients, the local interfacial tensions) are very difficult to directly measure or visualize on the microscale. We often have to make inferences based on the observed behaviors and trends we find when doing systematic studies.

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

Living systems are all out of equilibrium, making them highly adaptive. Yet, as chemists, we are very used to thinking about reactions proceeding to an equilibrium state. How do we design chemical systems that can be continuously driven and persist in different non-equilibrium states for long time periods?

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

Don’t be afraid to dive into unfamiliar research fields; you don’t have to be an expert to discover something exciting and make an impact.

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Soft Matter Emerging Investigator – Rana Ashkar

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Rana Ashkar is an assistant professor at Virginia Tech, where she joined the Physics Department in 2018. Prior to her current appointment, she held a Clifford G. Shull Fellowship at Oak Ridge National Lab, preceded by a joint postdoc position at NIST and the University of Maryland. Dr. Ashkar has a Ph.D. in experimental physics from Indiana University. Her doctoral work was recognized by the Esther L. Kinsley dissertation award. Her research group focuses on biophysical investigations of model cell membranes, with specific emphasis on membrane mechanics, membrane-protein interactions, and dynamic membrane responses to interfacial and environmental cues. Besides scholarly achievements, Dr. Ashkar is committed to diversity and inclusion in STEM and has been an active member on several committees promoting a better environment for underrepresented and marginalized groups in science. She was the founder and first chairperson of the “Women in Neutron Sciences” program at Oak Ridge National Lab. She recently served as the Chair of the APS Climate Site Visits Program, the flagship program of the APS Committee on the Status of Women in Physics. Currently, she serves on the executive committee of the APS Division of Biological Physics (DBIO) and one of her priorities is to establish programs to empower marginalized groups and ensure equitable recognition of their contributions.

 

Read Rana’s Emerging Investigator article “The dynamic face of liquid membranes” and check out all of the 2021 Soft Matter Emerging Investigator articles here.

 

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

Soft Matter provides an excellent platform where research areas at the intersection of physics, biology, and chemistry are best showcased to a broad readership.

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 part of being a scientist and a faculty member is the role we play in the education and scientific development of graduate and undergraduate students and their engagement in research questions that are central to health, societal needs, and technological developments.

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

The dynamics of cell membranes are central to life but there are still major gaps in our understanding of membranes “in action”, particularly on the nanoscale where vital biological functions take place. This includes protein-membrane interactions, cell signaling, and even viral budding. Developing tools, theories, and simulations that fill these knowledge gaps will be crucial to our understanding of cellular functions and how we utilize this knowledge in therapeutic discoveries and biotechnological advances.

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

My advice for early career scientists, especially graduate students and postdocs, would be to follow their passion, to persist, and not be afraid to challenge existing dogmas. I would also encourage them to be mindful and adopt inclusive research practices that would help create a better science environment.

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Soft Matter Emerging Investigator – On Shun Pak

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On Shun Pak is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Santa Clara University. He earned a B.Eng. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Hong Kong in 2008 and a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, San Diego in 2013. He then continued his research as a post-doctoral research fellow at Princeton University, before joining the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Santa Clara University in 2014. His current research interests include low-Reynolds-number locomotion, biological flows, and complex fluids. More information about his work can be found at https://webpages.scu.edu/ftp/opak/.

 

Read On Shun’s Emerging Investigator article “Propulsion of an elastic filament in a shear-thinning fluid” and check out all of the 2021 Soft Matter Emerging Investigator articles here.

 

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

The emerging field of soft matter crosses the traditional boundaries of chemistry, physics, biology, and engineering. Soft Matter provides a unique venue for scientists, mathematicians, and engineers across different disciplines to communicate significant advances and transformative ideas in this highly interdisciplinary field.

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Soft Matter Emerging Investigator – Anđela Šarić

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Andela is an Associate Professor of Biological and Soft Matter Physics and University College London. She is leading a computational group at the intersection of soft matter physics and life sciences. Her research is focused on understanding molecular self-organisation far from thermodynamic equilibrium: how macromolecules self-organise into functional machines that produce work underpinning life, and how these processes can go wrong, leading to pathologies. Andela obtained her PhD from Columbia University with Angelo Cacciuto, followed by a postdoc with Daan Frenkel at the University of Cambridge, supported by an HFSP Fellowship. Among other awards, she is a recipient of the ERC Starting Grant, EMBO Young Investigator Prize, and Royal Society University Research Fellowship. She can be found on Twitter @SaricLab.

 

Read Andela’s Emerging Investigator article “Modelling the dynamics of vesicle reshaping and scission under osmotic shocks” and check out all of the 2021 Soft Matter Emerging Investigator articles here.

 

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

I love Soft Matter, I’ve been publishing in it since my early PhD years, and am continuing to do so now when I have my own group. Soft matter research clearly interfaces with many disciplines, from materials to life sciences, but it’s really important to have a solid journal where soft matter research can be published in its own right.  Funnily enough, I wrote a paper for the “Emerging Investigators” issue when my PhD advisor was named one, so continuing this tradition feels really special to me (I also hope my students are reading this!).

What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment and what do you find most challenging about your research? And, in your opinion, what are the most important questions to be asked/answered in this field of research?

I am very excited about self-assembly, which is a traditional field of soft matter, but now driven out of equilibrium, such that it can achieve functionalities similar to those observed in living systems. Along the same lines, I’m also very excited about soft matter concepts studied in vivo; in the context of living cells and tissues. I think it’s time to go live.

Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists? To me absolutely the most important part of a scientific career are people — your mentors, collaborators, and your mentees. They are the ones who will make this career enjoyable and new exciting things possible. My advice is to pay attention to the human side when choosing people you will work with or institutions you will join.

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Soft Matter Emerging Investigator – Teng Zhang

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Dr. Teng Zhang is an Assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Syracuse University. Prior to Joining Syracuse, he was a Postdoctoral associate in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at MIT (2014-2015) and received his PhD degree at Brown University in 2015.  He received his Bachelor (2007) and Master (2010) degrees at Dalian University of Technology, China. His current research focus is mechanics of interface and instability, examples including wrinkling patterns, adhesion and wetting, multistable structures, and morphing food. Dr. Zhang has received the NSF CAREER Award. He enjoys working with people with various backgrounds, such as mechanics, design, physics, and bioengineering to address interdisciplinary challenges.

 

Read Teng’s Emerging Investigator article “Maggtice: a lattice model for hard-magnetic soft materials” and check out all of the 2021 Soft Matter Emerging Investigator articles here.

 

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

Soft Matter is a great place to publish our work because it has a broad and diverse community. The goal of the research is to provide a simple and versatile simulation tool for the deformation and Multiphysics coupling of smart and soft magnetic materials and structures, which can be leveraged by researchers from various fields, from soft robotic, material science, physics, and mechanics. 

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 harnessing structure instabilities and multiphysics coupling (e.g., swelling and deformation) to realize unprecedented functions and devices. My research mainly focuses on nonlinear problems. They are challenging to model and simulate as well as calibrate and validate with experiments.

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

Uncovering the working mechanism and design principles of various hybrid structures, such as hard and soft, active and passive, and solid and liquid. Nature has all these examples and can be a very good resource for new research questions and guidelines of engineering solutions.

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

Choose the topics you are really interested in and good at. Establish your core expertise and then talk with people in different fields to identify new research directions and collaborations.

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Soft Matter Emerging Investigator – John Kolinski

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John Kolinski studied both engineering mechanics and mathematics at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign and graduated with Bachelor’s degrees in both subjects in 2008, before earning a Master’s degree in applied mathematics (Sc.M.) and a PhD in applied physics from Harvard University, in 2010 and 2013, respectively. His PhD thesis on “The role of air in droplet impact on a smooth, solid surface” was supervised by Lakshminarayanan Mahadevan and Shmuel Rubinstein. Supported by a Fulbright-Israel post-doctoral fellowship, he moved in 2014 to Israel to work with Eran Sharon and Jay Fineberg at the Racah Institute of Physics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. There he studied the inter-facial instabilities in fluid and solid systems such as water bells and the fracture of hydrogels. Since May 2017, Kolinski has been a Tenure Track Assistant Professor at EPFL and the head of the Laboratory of Engineering Mechanics of Soft Interfaces (EMSI) at EPFL’s School of Engineering. He can be found on Twitter @emsi_lab_epfl.

Read John’s Emerging Investigator article “Air mediates the impact of a compliant hemisphere on a rigid smooth surface” and check out all of the 2021 Soft Matter Emerging Investigator articles here.

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

Soft Matter is an excellent journal. My manuscript was handled efficiently and rapidly, and the referee reports helped to improve the scope of our study.

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 very excited about the work we are doing in probing the stability of soft interfaces, from dynamic impact to fracture mechanics. Some of the main challenges in this work are technical and experimental in nature – we are looking to push the boundaries for how well we can measure material deformation at interfaces, particularly in 3D, for instance. For our lab, which focuses primarily on experiments, we work hard to expend the domain of what our tools can offer us in terms of useful data.

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

Soft matter as a field is full of amazing questions, with many of the key questions related to geometry, and an incredible breadth of applicability, from biology to medicine to robotics. The central role of geometry in soft matter is a consequence of the large deformation that soft materials can undergo – often, the non-linearities that arise due to geometry are challenging to model, and require experiments to advance the science. At the end of the day, the study of these materials can lead to very useful applications. While we are not working on applications directly, we try to remain attentive to the needs of engineers working with soft matter, as well as the natural systems comprised of soft matter. Specifically, soft robotics, and medical implants / human machine interfaces stand to benefit from an improved understanding of the mechanics of soft materials. These applications are incredibly important to society, and provide great motivation for our day-to-day work on the fundamental mechanics of soft materials.

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

I hesitate to offer unsolicited advice to strangers 🙂 I can only comment on my experience – I have never gone wrong pursuing interesting questions that I find to be challenging, and working in collaboration with people who are smarter than me to address them.

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Soft Matter Emerging Investigator – Michelle Driscoll

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Professor Driscoll is a soft condensed matter experimentalist, and her research lies at the junction between soft-matter physics and fluid dynamics. Before coming to Northwestern, she was a postdoctoral associate at New York University, working with Paul Chaikin in the Center for Soft Matter Research. She completed her PhD in 2014 with Sid Nagel at the University of Chicago. The Driscoll lab focuses on understanding how structure and patterns emerge in a driven system, and how to use this structure formation as a new way to probe nonequillibrium systems. They study emergent structures in a diverse array of driven systems, from the microscopic to larger-scale. By developing a deeper understanding of patterns and structures which emerge dynamically in a driven material, they can learn not only how these structures can be controlled, but also how to use them to connect macroscopic behavior to microscopic properties. She can be found on Twitter @driscollphysics.

Read Michelle’s Emerging Investigator article “Gel rupture during dynamic swelling” and check out all of the 2021 Soft Matter Emerging Investigator articles here.

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Soft Matter Emerging Investigator – Francesca Serra

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Francesca Serra holds an undergraduate and master’s degree from the University of Parma, Italy, and a PhD degree from the University of Cambridge, UK. After her years as postdoctoral researcher at the University of Milan and at the University of Pennsylvania, in 2017 she became an assistant professor in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins University, and in a few months she will start her new position as associate professor at the University of Southern Denmark. She leads an experimental group that studies liquid crystals and topological defects in different contexts, such as the behavior of defects near phase transitions, the optics of liquid crystal defects for the creation of components such as micro-lenses and beam splitters, and the analogies between liquid crystals and living cells. She can be found on Twitter @SerraLab_LC.

Read Francesca’s Emerging Investigator article “Emergence and stabilization of transient twisted defect structures in confined achiral liquid crystals at a phase transition” and check out all of the 2021 Soft Matter Emerging Investigator articles here.

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

I have always found Soft Matter to be an ideal place to publish my research. In fact, some of the papers I am most proud of are published in Soft Matter. In my opinion, Soft Matter constitutes a unique resource both for publishing and for finding the relevant literature, especially for experimental studies that are at the intersection between physics and material sciences, or between physics and biology.

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Soft Matter Emerging Investigator – Xiaoji Xu

Dr. Xiaoji Xu is the Class of ‘68 associate professor in the Department of Chemistry at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, United States. Before his independent research career, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto with Dr. Gilbert C. Walker. He received his B.S. in Chemistry from Peking University in 2004 and Ph.D. from The University of British Columbia in 2009 on femtosecond spectroscopy with Dr. John W. Hepburn and Dr. Valery Milner. His current research focuses are on nanoscale chemical imaging, laser spectroscopy, and innovations in scanning probe microscopy for chemical measurement and material interfaces. He has published more than 40 peer-reviewed articles and holds several patents on AFM-based infrared microscopy. He was selected as a Beckman Young Investigator in 2018 and Sloan Research Fellow in 2020. Xiaoji @xiaojixu and his group @xu_group can be found on Twitter. 

Read Xiaoji’s Emerging Investigator article “Peak force visible microscopy” and check out all of the 2021 Soft Matter Emerging Investigator articles here.

 

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

I am very happy to publish my first Soft Matter article. My research area of scanning probe microscopy has many applications in polymers, proteins, and interfaces – topics that are covered by Soft Matter.

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 excited about developing new scanning probe microscopy that can be applied to the soft matter interfaces. The biggest challenge of my research is to find meaningful scientific questions that can be solved with various types of scanning probe microscopy. It will need to communicate with scientists and engineers worldwide and establish collaborations.

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

In my current research area, one of the most important questions to be answered is what limits the spatial resolution and sensitivity of AFM-based photothermal microscopy. Can it reach a single molecule with a single nanometer spatial resolution?

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

My advice to fellow early-career scientists is that inspirations for new experiments come from working in the laboratory. Do not let too much administrative work overwhelm your time working in the laboratory.

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