Symposium: To see a world in a grain of sand | Duke Kunshan University

Symposium: To see a world in a grain of sand

February 2, 2021

Duke Kunshan hosted its first Soft Matter Symposium in December, bringing together researchers from some of the world’s leading universities.

Academics from Duke University, Tsinghua University and the University of Tokyo were among the speakers who took part in the cross-disciplinary event, onsite and virtually. They discussed the use of mathematical tools to study soft matter, elements that are in an intermediate state between solid and conventional fluid, at all levels, from macroscopic to microscopic.

The symposium, which ran Dec. 17 to 20, followed a trend in scientific research for collaboration across different fields, bringing together scientists from physics, chemistry and biology backgrounds.

Kai Huang, chair of the Natural and Applied Sciences Division of Duke Kunshan's undergraduate program, and Xin Li, associate dean for research and director of the Data Science Research Center, opened the event with welcome speeches, followed by a series of sessions where 29 scientists from leading institutions presented their research and answered questions from the audience.


Clockwise from top left: DKU professors Chang Yong Chung, Sze Chai Kwok and Shixin Xu


Kai Zhang introducing his field of research


Faculty sitting along with the students

From the properties of a metallic glass, the principles of blood clotting, and dense packing in protein cores, to the workings of neural networks in the brain, the wide-ranging topics shared by speakers explored many profound mysteries of natural and man-made matters.

Sessions were chaired by Duke Kunshan faculty including Shixin Xu, assistant professor of mathematics; Kai Zhang, assistant professor of chemistry; Chang Yong Chung, professor of biology; Kai Huang, associate professor of physics; Konstantinos Efstathiou, associate professor of mathematics; Hwang Myung-Joong, assistant professor of physics; and Sze Chai Kwok, associate professor of cognitive neuroscience.

“We invited renowned scientists from mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and engineering backgrounds, from home and abroad, to discuss many important topics in the field of soft matter from multidisciplinary perspectives,” said Zhang, who helped to organize the conference. “From the force strain of sand grains to contact line dynamics for droplets, I believe this symposium helped researchers explore the mundane yet amazing phenomena found in nature from multiple perspectives."

Xu, who co-organized the event, said, "In this symposium, we learned about cutting-edge findings from scientists in biology, physics, chemistry and mathematics, and gained a new interdisciplinary understanding of the development and application of soft matter. It also further promoted interdisciplinary development and collaboration at DKU."

Students can visit the Duke Kunshan Soft Matter Symposium website to learn more about the wide-ranging academic topics covered, many of which are recent research hotspots.