Author Archive

Soft Matter Emerging Investigator – Xinpeng Xu

Dr. Xinpeng Xu received his B.S. in physics from Wuhan University in 2008 and Ph.D. in Nano Science and Technology from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) in 2012. After several years of post-doctor experiences in HKUST, Weizmann Institute of Science, and Technion-Israel, he joined the physics program in GTIIT in the fall of 2017 as an assistant professor. His main research interests lie generally in the theory of soft matter and biological systems in close collaboration with experiments. His recent research focuses on the structure, phase behavior, and dynamics of soft matter composite such as colloidal suspensions, polymer solutions/gels, animal cell-matrix systems, using the approaches of continuum mechanics and statistical thermodynamics.

Read Xinpeng’s Emerging Investigator article “Onsager’s variational principle in active soft matter” 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 one of the most important and decent peer-reviewed interdisciplinary journals in the field of soft matter and biological systems. In the past decade, active soft matter has become a major research subject for soft matter physicists, through close collaboration with biologists and chemists, etc. Our work is about the field theory of active soft matter and its applications, which fits the general interests of the audience of 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?

In the past decade, active soft matter has become a major research subject for soft matter physicists, through close collaboration with biologists and chemists, etc. The basic idea is to bring the study of active matter into the fold of condensed matter physics based on the consideration that the collective behaviors of active matter emerge from the interactions among the constituent self-propelling units and the dissipation mechanisms operating inside the system. In particular, soft matter physics provides a lot of useful model reference systems for active matter, such as liquid droplets, colloid suspensions, nematic liquid crystals, polymer gels, and surfactants, etc. The major challenge is then to couple these reference systems with active and specific molecular processes in a thermodynamically-consistent way. To tackle these challenges, we showed that Onsager’s variational principle (OVP), based on linear irreversible thermodynamics and widely used in the dynamic modeling of inert soft matter, can be simply extended to include biochemical activity and conveniently applied to study the emergent structures and dynamics of active soft matter. OVP can not only help to formulate thermodynamically-consistent models, but can also be used to find approximate solutions for the complicated active soft matter dynamics.

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

What are the application range and limits of the active field theory based on linear irreversible thermodynamics in understanding the emergent phenomena in living biological systems?

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Soft Matter Emerging Investigator – Li-Heng Cai

Li-Heng Cai received his B.S. in Physics at Lanzhou University and Ph.D. in Materials Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he researched both theoretical polymer physics and experimental biophysics under the supervision of Michael Rubinstein and Richard Boucher. He switched from theory to experimentation during his postdoctoral training with David A. Weitz and Jeffrey J. Fredberg at Harvard University. In 2018, he joined the faculty in the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Virginia, where he leads the Soft Biomatter Laboratory. His research aims to understand and control the interactions between active soft materials and living systems to solve challenges in energy, healthcare, and environmental sciences. He has been recognized by the ACS PRF Doctoral New Investigator Award and the NSF CAREER Award. He can be found on Twitter @lihengcai and his lab group @SoftBiomatter.

Read Li-Heng’s Emerging Investigator article “Molecular understanding for large deformations of soft bottlebrush polymer networks” 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?

Bottlebrush polymer networks are a new class of soft yet ‘solvent’ materials matching the mechanical properties of biological tissues. Understanding and controlling the mechanical properties of bottlebrush polymer networks is critical to the design and creation of new soft materials. With its diverse and interdisciplinary readership, Soft Matter is the ideal place to publish research in bottlebrush polymer networks.

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

We discovered a previously unrecognized dependence of the extensibility of bottlebrush networks on the stiffness, and were able to develop a molecular theory to precisely capture the unusual mechanical behaviour. Because I was a theorist, I tend to develop a deep understanding of experimental findings. This raises a challenge: how to design and perform the simplest possible yet key experiments, which would generate reliable data for the subsequent theoretical understanding. Finally, how to exploit the newly developed understanding to design and create better materials of practical use.

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

The most important and challenging question to be answered in the research of polymer networks is how to independently control the extensibility and the stiffness of a polymer network. These two most important mechanical properties of polymer networks and are intrinsically coupled: stiffer networks are less extensible. Solving this challenge would open avenues for designing high-performance polymer networks.

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

To me, the most important thing is to identify problems of both fundamental and practical importance. Every project we are doing now meets this criterion. Being able to do so allows me to attract the talent and resources required to do the work.

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Soft Matter Emerging Investigator – Tristan Bereau

Tristan Bereau is an assistant professor at the Van ‘t Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences and the Informatics Institute of the University of Amsterdam. He completed a Ph.D. in Physics at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA. In 2012, Tristan moved to the University of Basel as a postdoctoral researcher. He was a group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research from 2014, leading an Emmy Noether group from 2016 to 2019. His work focuses on the interface between multiscale modeling and machine learning for soft matter. He can be found on Twitter @tristanbereau.

Read Tristan’s Emerging Investigator article “Free-energy landscape of polymer-crystal polymorphism” 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 high-quality journal to publish important developments relating to the field of soft matter. It’s a great venue to present scientific developments, but also leaves room for more technical/methodological contributions of high quality.

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

Developments in machine learning are quickly changing the way we approach many problems. The capacity of machine learning to transform so many scientific fields is quickly reshaping our field. This makes for exciting opportunities to shape the way we integrate machine learning in soft matter. To take full advantage of these tools, it demands careful attention to methodological developments in computer science.

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

In many ways hard condensed matter has more rapidly embraced machine learning. Soft matter has had a late start, though the pace of research is greatly accelerating. To further catch up, it’s important to improve how we blend in two aspects—scale separation and entropy—in machine learning models.

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Soft Matter Emerging Investigator – Douglas Tree

Prof. Douglas R. Tree is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Brigham Young University. He received a B.S. from BYU in 2009 and a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 2014, both in Chemical Engineering. At Minnesota, he worked with Kevin Dorfman studying the polymer physics of nanoconfined DNA and its relevance for genome mapping technologies. He then worked as a postdoctoral researcher with Glenn Fredrickson at the University of California, Santa Barbara on the kinetics of phase separation of polymer materials. The Tree group continues to focus on non-equilibrium assembly processes in polymer materials including nonsolvent induced phase separation, polymer crystallization, and the non-equilibrium self-assembly of polymer vesicles. Prof. Tree was the recipient of the ACS PRF Doctoral New Investigator Award in 2018. He can be found on Twitter @TreeSoftMatter.

Read Douglas’ Emerging Investigator article “Using reactive dissipative particle dynamics to understand local shape manipulation of polymer vesicles” 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 research. The audience is perfectly suited for our work, and the reviews are generally fast and well-handled.

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 exploring concepts related to non-equilibrium self-assembly of soft materials. So much of the soft materials physics of living systems takes place out of equilibrium, and I think we are just beginning to understand how to understand these systems. The most challenging aspect is that we no longer have all of the nice features of equilibrium to rely on!

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

How can we simplify our understanding of out-of-equilibrium processes? What are the principles of “universality” that could guide us? I think we are going to need new theories and/or simulation techniques along these lines in order to rationally engineer synthetic systems that can mimic living ones.

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

Pick people you want to work with not topics. As scientists/engineers, we get enamored with a topic of interest. However, your career (and life!) is more defined by your relationships with people than the topics you study. A great mentor can make your life wonderful, and a terrible mentor can make your life miserable.

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Soft Matter Emerging Investigator – Tiantian Kong

Dr. Tiantian Kong received her S.M. and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Hong Kong. After one-year of postdoc training, she joined the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Shenzhen University in November 2015 as an assistant professor. She was promoted to associate professor in November 2018. Her research interests include electrohydrodynamic flows, multiphase microfluidics, emulsions, particle-laden interfaces and hydrogels. She has received the “Young Scientist Award” from 7th Microsystems & Nanoengineering Conference and Young Scientists Forum in 2020, “Outstanding Oral Presentation Award” from National Science Foundation China Forum for Young Scholars in Chemical Engineering in 2020, and “Guangdong Province Pearl-River Young Scholar Fund” in 2018.

Read Tiantian’s Emerging Investigator article “Electrohydrodynamics of droplets and jets in multiphase microsystems” 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?

Super excited to publish an article about interesting dynamic behaviors of microdroplets and microjets in Soft Matter, which is a top multi-disciplinary journal about fundamentals of interfaces. 

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

How can we measure interface phenomena on the microscope level?

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Soft Matter Emerging Investigator – Stephanie Lee

Stephanie Lee joined the Department of Chemistry at New York University as an associate professor in January 2021. She received a BS in chemical engineering from MIT in 2007 and a PhD in chemical engineering and materials science from Princeton University in 2012. She was a Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the Molecular Design Institute at NYU from 2012-2014 before joining Stevens Institute of Technology as an assistant professor. Her research group studies the crystal engineering of solution-processable semiconductors for emerging optoelectronic applications, including flexible displays and photovoltaics. Their strategies involve the use of solution rheology to monitor and control semiconducting polymer network formation, scaffold-directed crystallization of small molecules into vertical crystal arrays and nanoconfined crystallization to shift the thermodynamics and stability of metal-halide perovskites for high performance solar cells.  Lee is a recipient of the Stevens Early Career Award for Research Excellence and a 2019 NSF CAREER awardee. She can be found on Twitter @leelab_nyu.

Read Stephanie’s Emerging Investigator article “Orienting and shaping organic semiconductor single crystals through selective nanoconfinement” and check out all of the 2021 Soft Matter Emerging Investigator articles here.

 

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

There is a dichotomy in the field of emerging optoelectronics – these materials are uniquely attractive for commercial applications due to their ease of processing, but it is rapid processing from solution that hinders the formation of high-quality crystalline films required for suitable device performance. The ability to fabricate high-performance devices via scalable, continuous processes remains a critical challenge in our field.

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

Find mentors who will advocate for you and who place your interests above their own. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of my mentors, especially my postdoc advisor, Prof. Mike Ward.

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Soft Matter Emerging Investigator – Yuri Gerelli

Yuri Gerelli completed his undergraduate and graduate studies in physics at the University of Parma focusing on the use of neutron scattering techniques for the investigation of soft matter systems. In 2011, he began working at the Institut Laue-Langevin (Grenoble, France), initially as post-doctoral fellow and then as coordinator for the Partnership for Soft Condensed Matter. In 2020, he joined the Marche Polytechnic University (Ancona, Italy) as assistant professor.  His research interests are the understanding of the structural rearrangements taking place in models of biological membranes and the investigation of the structure and dynamics of self-assembling systems in solution and at interfaces. He can be found on Twitter @YGerelli.

Read Yuri’s Emerging Investigator article “On the lipid flip-flop and phase transition coupling” 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?

For people like me, who are working at the triple point for physics, chemistry and biology, Soft Matter offers a perfect solution to publicize our findings to a very relevant community of researchers but it also represents a place where to find new and exciting ideas for future experiments.

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2021 Soft Matter Lectureship awarded to Silvia Marchesan

It is with great pleasure that we announce Prof Silvia Marchesan (University of Trieste) as the recipient of the 2021 Soft Matter lectureship.

This award, now in its thirteenth year, honours an early-career researcher who has made significant contribution to the soft matter field. The recipient is selected by the Soft Matter Editorial Board from a list of candidates nominated by the community.

Promotional slide displaying the winner of the 2021 Soft Matter lectureship - Silvia Marchesan (university of Trieste)

Silvia completed her PhD in Chemistry at The University of Edinburgh in 2008 and did her postdoc research at the University of Helsinki (Finland), then at Monash University in a joint position with Australia’s national science agency (CSIRO). In 2013 she returned to Italy and secured a tenure-track academic position in 2015 at the University of Trieste, where she started to work on nanostructured materials as PI thanks to a starting grant by the Italian Ministry of Education and Research. In 2018 she became associate professor and obtained the national Habilitation as full professor in organic chemistry. She was featured amongst the 11 Rising Stars profiles in the natural sciences by Nature Index in 2018 for her multidisciplinary research that spans across chemistry, biophysics, nanotechnology and materials science.

Silvia leads the SuperStructures group and can be found on Twitter @MarchesanLab. She is interested in the control over the self-organization of molecules into superstructures that span over a sizescale that goes well beyond that of the single components. Her group’s main activities focus on the use of both D- and L- amino acids to form short heterochiral peptides that self-organize into different architectures. Their favourite systems are in water and they can be in the form of biomaterials (hydrogels), or nanostructures, for biological applications and they also also enjoy working on carbon nanomaterials (CNT, graphene, nanohorns, etc.) that they covalently functionalize to exert control over their properties, in this case both for energy or biological applications.

 

Read Silvia’s latest article in Soft Matter Supramolecular hydrogels from unprotected dipeptides: a comparative study on stereoisomers and structural isomers” which was in our peptide soft materials collection for FREE until 1 August. Also check out articles from our previous lectureship winners in our lectureship lectureship winners collection.

 

How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

In my first article as corresponding author, it was all about data interpretation, yet many questions were left unaswered. Over the years, the transition has been towards understanding the exact reasons behind unexpected observations, and identifying design rules for self-assembling minimalistic systems that gel and exert various functions (e.g. catalysis, drug delivery, amyloid fibril inhibition, etc.). On the journey, I have encountered great scientists, some of which have become collaborators from different disciplines that complement our skills and with whom we engage in stimulating discussions and learn something new every day!

 

What excites you most about your area of research and what has been the most exciting moment of your career so far?

What I love about our research on soft matter is that, especially in the case of supramolecular hydrogels, we can monitor the “dance” of molecules as they interact across size scales, using diverse techniques at the molecular, nano-, micro-, up to the macroscale, and we can actually see by eye the net outcome of the assembly process. It is stupefying to visually observe changes in a vial and understand the process that brings molecules together into a nanostructured, yet macroscopic, material.

The most exciting moment came after a long series of grant rejections, as I started to think of plan B, outside of academia, and wrapped up the scientific passion project that was keeping me awake at night, in what I thought was going to be the last proposal. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I discovered that it got funded with a starting package from the Italian Ministry of Research (MIUR). That was a game-changer and I remember standing in awe in front of the lab door with the name “Superstructures Lab”, thinking that finally I could realise the science that, until then, I could only dream of.

 

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

I think there’s still a knowledge gap at the mesoscale. We understand well how to design and control molecules and nanostructures on one hand, and macroscopic materials on the other. However, sometimes a link goes missing in the middle, and geometrical errors accumulate in the process of structure amplification until it stops at the microscale, or it fails before then. I think that understanding and controlling how this happens, and how multiple components can exert orthogonal functions in complex systems, will open the way to a qualitative leap in the field. We are working very hard to uncover general design rules to go all the way from simple molecules to supramolecular materials, and peptides’ diversity renders the task an exciting challenge.

 

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

Our work is at the interface of chemistry, biophysics, nanotechnology, and materials science. Most journals focus on one discipline or another, while Soft Matter readers are the perfect audience for mutlidisciplinary research of this type. The RSC publishing platform is very simple to use, and we experienced short peer-review times and constructive feedback that ultimately allowed us to grow as scientists and it enhanced the quality of our work.

 

In which upcoming conferences or events (online or in person) may our readers meet you?

In 2021, I’ll be at the “Design and Function of Stimuli Responsive Nanocomposites” Symposium at UCD, at the ACS Fall Meeting, the EMBO Workshop on Designing Functional Biomolecular Assemblies, and I’ll close the year in Caparica (Portugal) with the Conference on Translational Chemistry (IC3TC).

 

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

Find an inspiring environment and mentor to help you find your path, do the science that makes you dream of it, engage with the community at large, professional and local (schools, public). The more you practise discussing science the clearer and better your ideas become.

 

How do you spend your spare time?

I wish I had spare time! I love rock concerts, art exhibitions, and going for hikes in dramatic landscapes. I am very fortunate that Italy on this front has lots to offer, and Trieste in particular, as it is a gem nested between the Alps and the Mediterranean, with the bonus of a synchrotron in between! Scientists are always welcome to visit us!

 

We would like to thank everybody who nominated a candidate for the 2021 Soft Matter Lectureship. The Editorial Board had a very difficult task in choosing a winner from the many excellent and worthy candidates.

 

Please join us in congratulating Silvia on winning this award!

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Soft Matter Emerging Investigator – Hyoungsoo Kim

Prof. Dr. Hyoungsoo Kim holds a MSc. (2008) in Mechanical Engineering from KAIST and a PhD (2013) in Fluid Mechanics from Delft University of Technology. He worked with Prof. Howard Stone at Princeton University as a postdoc researcher from 2013 to 2017. Since 2017, he is leading the “Fluid & Interface Laboratory” group, and is an assistant professor at KAIST. His research areas revolve around experimental fluid mechanics with applications to physics and engineering over multi-scales for interfacial hydrodynamics of complex fluids, which triggers to open a new physicochemical avenue in fluid mechanics. His main research interests are largely classified into (i) Experimental Fluid Mechanics, (ii) Complex fluids and soft matter, and (iii) fluid-fluid interfacial instabilities. Hyoungsoo Kim has published 40 peer-reviewed publications and has an H-index of 17. He is currently working as an Editorial Board Member for Experiments in Fluids.

Read Hyoungsoo’s Emerging Investigator article “Controlling uniform patterns by evaporation of multi-component liquid droplets in a confined geometry” 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?

These days, soft matter topics get a lot of attention. I think Soft Matter is the best journal as the special journal for these topics.

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

In my group, we are working on interfacial flow problems including liquid metal, nano emulsions, self-assembled crystal structures, and uniform coating of colloids (such as quantum dots, DNA, and liquid crystals).

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

I could be wrong but to date soft matter physics are driven by mostly material science people. However, these days, hydrodynamic understanding should be followed together to develop further systematically.

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

Definitely, Pierre-Gilles de Gennes is exceptional for soft matter amongst scientists. I can not remember what could be the wisdom from him. However, his study was not limited to polymer or material science. His research results cover also hydrodynamics as well.

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Soft Matter Emerging Investigator – Sujit Datta

Sujit Datta is an Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Princeton University. He earned a BA in Mathematics and Physics and an MS in Physics in 2008 from the University of Pennsylvania. He earned his PhD in Physics in 2013 from Harvard, where he studied fluid dynamics and instabilities in porous media and colloidal microcapsules with David Weitz. His postdoctoral training was in Chemical Engineering at Caltech, where he studied the biophysics of the gut with Rustem Ismagilov. He joined Princeton in 2017, where his lab studies soft and living materials in complex settings, motivated by challenges like water remediation, carbon sequestration, oil/gas recovery, and targeted drug delivery. Prof. Datta is the recipient of the NSF CAREER Award, AIChE 35 Under 35 Award, ACS Unilever Award, APS Andreas Acrivos Award in Fluid Dynamics, APS LeRoy Apker Award, ACS Petroleum Research Fund New Investigator Award, and multiple Commendations for Outstanding Teaching. He can be found on Twitter @TheSquishyLab and more information about his lab can be found at http://dattalab.princeton.edu/.

Read Sujit’s Emerging Investigator article “Poroelastic shape relaxation of hydrogel particles” 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?

An exciting feature of this field is that it is inherently interdisciplinary, combining perspectives and addressing problems across biology, chemistry, physics, and engineering. But as a result, it can be difficult to find the right journal to publish research that bridges disciplines. Soft Matter uniquely addresses this need.

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