Major Soft Matter Conference Makes Its Way to North Carolina This Summer

5/1/24 Pratt School of Engineering

The 8th International Soft Matter Conference (ISMC) will be held in the Raleigh Convention Center this summer, marking the first time in the conference’s history that it will be held in the Americas. Duke’s Soft Matter Day, the Triangle Soft Matter Workshop, and the Young Investigator Workshop round out a year focused on elevating materials science.

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Major Soft Matter Conference Makes Its Way to North Carolina This Summer

Soft matter science is relatively new, emerging prominently in the 1980s and early 1990s, with significant organizational development occurring over the last several decades. Polymers, colloids, foams, granular materials and biomaterials are all examples of soft matter. Researchers and academic institutions have been steadily investing resources in these materials for their potential in industrial chemistry, biomechanics, medical robotics and climate sustainability.   

This summer, ISMC 2024, a major international soft matter conference, is set to be hosted at the Raleigh Convention Center, setting up a unique opportunity for Duke University to collaborate with researchers both locally and across the globe. The Soft Matter Association of the Americas (SMAA) was created to ensure the continuity and expansion of recurring events that help grow the field of soft matter science. 

The conference has evolved through efforts to unify the highly dispersed soft matter community, initially spurred by European collaborations that have gradually extended to a worldwide scope. For the first time in the history of the conference, it will be held in the Americas–right here in North Carolina. 

This kind of gathering is like the Rosetta Stone–every person can connect from the same language and then discern its meaning in others.

Bavand Keshavarz Assistant Professor in the Thomas Lord Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science

Michael Rubinstein, the Aleksandar S. Vesic Distinguished Professor in the Thomas Lord Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, is one of several Duke faculty serving on the organizing committee for ISMC 2024. “Since the early 2000s, the soft matter community has been highly dispersed,” he shared.

“The International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) understood this and formed Working Group 15 to work with different professional organizations across different countries to coordinate soft matter events for the future.” 

With the latest conference making its way to the U.S., it marks a considerable step forward for the materials community as it works to build bridges across the globe. 

ISMC 2024’s joint effort includes a collaboration between Duke, UNC and NC State, with the hope that materials science can maintain a hotbed in The Research Triangle. Scheduled concurrently with the international conference is Duke Soft Matter Day (DMSD), which aims to showcase and integrate the university’s contributions to soft matter while including presentations, interactive discussions and lab visits.

Patrick Charbonneau, professor of chemistry and another member of the organizing committee, says that the Triangle Soft Matter Workshop and DSMD have been integral parts of materials exposure in the Triangle for well over the past decade. “Because so many expert researchers in the field will be attending ISMC 2024, we’re continuing our more local event, Duke Soft Matter Day, featuring materials science at Duke,” he explained. 

The Triangle Soft Matter Workshop has been a place for students and faculty to share insights through collaborative engagement

“There is a large overlap between Soft Matter Day and the conference, so collaborating and connecting with this growing network of outstanding scientists in the field is a must,” he said. 

The Duke Materials Initiative is represented in the organizing committee as well by way of its co-directors Stefan Zauscher, professor in the MEMS department, and Christoph Schmidt, the Hertha Sponer Distinguished Professor of Physics. The two are hopeful that these satellite events will help foster and strengthen community ties within a field that continues to expand.

“Soft matter spans an enormous range of materials,” Zauscher said. “From experiments and theory, to polymers, colloids and gels. The enormity of the field is captured by the amount of topics covered in the conference.”

New faculty joining Duke have also pointed to the significance of this moment for materials science. Bavand Keshavarz, assistant professor in the MEMS department, says these kinds of events are unique opportunities for researchers to essentially cross pollinate. 

“This kind of gathering is like the Rosetta Stone–every person can connect from the same language and then discern its meaning in others,” he shared. “The Triangle soft matter community was in large part a determining factor in my coming to Duke. I’ve no doubt faculty looking for the same collaborative environment would see these events as important.” 

Like a microcosm, the Duke community exceptionally represents the diversity that one can find in the broad universe of soft matter science.

Michela Geri Assistant Professor in the Thomas Lord Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science

Michela Geri, assistant professor in the MEMS department, is glad that Duke is not only in close proximity to these significant events but is also directly involved with its faculty in their organization. 

“Like a microcosm, the Duke community exceptionally represents the diversity that one can find in the broad universe of soft matter science,” she said. “The Young Investigator Workshop also taking place during ISMC 2024 will give students and postdocs the chance to think about the frontier of soft matter.”

“It would be yet another opportunity for so many unique thinkers to interact, brainstorm and learn directly from the people who are major leaders in different areas of soft matter,” Geri explained.  

The 8th International Soft Matter Conference in Raleigh this summer will set the stage for North Carolina researchers and those beyond to collaborate on advancing the reach of materials science. Those looking to attend are encouraged to visit the SMAA website for additional registration details.

Materials Science Research

The materials science community continues to push the envelope at Pratt and beyond.