The Perks of In-Person

When so much can be done through the Internet now, you sometimes hear people wonder what physically going to conferences accomplishes that can't be done with IT. While it is true you could probably do the equivalent of individual symposia on the Internet, part of what makes MRS so interesting is how much is going on at the same time all in close proximity and the flexibility it allows. My Tuesday was a good show of this. Basically all the AI talks I went to today were a spur of the moment thing when I realized some of my symposium sessions today were focused on subtopics I was less interested in and thought the forum was a good place to learn about a new trend in the broader field.

During a break in the afternoon NM08 symposium, I went to the exhibitors' hall and saw the manufacturer of an old piece of equipment in my lab had a booth there. I struck up a conversation with them about how we had an older model of the version on display at their booth, and in 5 minutes they promised to send me some tutorial materials so I could train myself back in Virginia and answered several questions I had about the compatibility of the technique with my chemicals. Lots of companies bring things to demo or at least look at, and one instrument-maker even managed to bring a scanning electron microscope to the exhibition hall!

After the break, I went back to the AI forum to hear the panel discussion and got to ask a question at the end. I then heard the last talk in NM08 and then walked next door to hear a talk about porous carbons for catalysis applications. After that was the poster session where I was presenting my research, which was another place for serendipity. First, a really established researcher in my subfield came by and commented on my work and even suggested a characterization technique for me and said to email him to ask him a question. Around that time, a graduate student told me about a recently published paper I hadn't heard of that was really relevant to my methodology. Then, another person recommended a company I should talk to about my research to see if they were interested in funding it or providing research samples. 

After the poster session, I went to the MRS publications reception, where I met Judy, two of the other bloggers (Araceli and Jiajia), an MRS editor, and one of the AI panelists who answered my question in the afternoon and then recommended an activity at Fall MRS I might be interested in. 

I realize some of these things could happen through internet or phone conversations, but it would take longer, probably not save much effort, and I honestly don't think some of the more spontaneous things would happen. (One of the people coming by my poster said they were interested because they saw my title had a colloid term that is infrequently used in nanoparticle research.) Coming to MRS facilitated all of these things and I have clearer action items to follow up on instead of beginning several of these ideas with cold calls to people I don't know.  

Art & Science Exhibition in PCC North, 300 Level, Alcove!

Do you know there is an art & science exhibition in PCC North, 300 Level? The images shown there were selected as the art finalists in the Science as Art competition from the 105 artistic entries. The Scientific images were transformed into beauty and art as well as transmitting information. Chaoxing Zhang, a third-year PhD student from the University of California, Riverside, got a chance to exhibit his SEM image here, which showed the surface morphology of nano-hydroxyapatite coated Mg that looks like collapsed golden buildings. People can also vote for their favorite images.  IMG_9804

All It Takes Is a Colorful Tie Or a Fashion Show....

As if tomorrow's fashion show weren't enough, this conference has already given me several great reminders that textiles play an important role in materials science. Enjoying the diverse  choices in attire from intra- and international conference attendees is one example; but another hint came from none other than one of session's speakers, Marquise Crosby, an undergraduate student at Wright State University and a precocious researcher at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.  

Although his presentation focused on analyzing the some pretty high-tech stuff, Mr. Crosby explained to the audience that, like one of the proteins he is researching, silk is comprised of four primary amino acids. While I have absolutely no clue to which amino acids he was referring, his statement made me think about the history of textiles, which one could argue the textile industry originated in ancient Egypt or China; or perhaps, maybe its origins stem to the days in which Adam and Eve abashedly covered their nudity in fig leaves.  Who knows?


That said, how often do we take for granted the contribution of science to making the materials with which we used to cover and protect our bodies more durable, accessible, and convenient? Rarely do I think about the research and technological advancements that shield me from the heat whenever I don a wide-brimmed San Diego hat to protect my Gulf Coast-humidity-acclimated skin from the penetrating Sonoran Desert sun. 

And while rain it doesn't look like rain is in the forecast in the immediate future, I will definitely give a little more thought—and much more appreciation—to the folks who developed plastics, resins, and other coatings that allow me to stay high and dry when walking in the rain. 

All it takes is a colorful tie or an insightful comment—or a fashion show—to remind me.  

MRS publications


Hello, MRS  attendants, how is your day going?, let me tell you mine is going good so far, very productive my morning session, I hope yours as well. 

I want to dedicate this post to brief information about how to publish at the MRS.

Yesterday I attended the conference titled: "Essentials of getting your work published", well here are the highlights:

First at all, they mentioned we need to understand the TYPE of the paper that we have, there are 3 main categories, such as: 1st) Letters, 2nd) New, original article and 3rd) Review paper. 

They also explained each of them, so, a letter will be mainly a novel result and impactful learning but with a technical description of an average of 6000 word (3-6 printed pages), maximum 30 references, most prospectives letters are by invitation but you can also complete a proposal and send your information to  A new original article  full-length describing original research. It should not exceed 10 pages in length. Reviews summarize studies on a specific subject by introducing the author’s own opinions concerning recent progress and future prospects to give a balanced assessment. It should be normally no longer than 12 pages. Submission of review articles could be done by invitation or voluntary proposal.

Also the panelists gave really important information according to me, they just answered the question where should I publish?

Well, the MRS has several "spaces" for your type of work. The options are: MRS advances, MRS Communications , Journal of Materials Research, MRS Energy & Sustainability and MRS Bulletin

Finally, I invite you to click on the links of each option if you want to have more information, and also to attend the MRS-Cambridge Publications Booth 100 in the exhibit hall in the Phoenix Convention Center, North Building, 300 level, Exhibition Hall C, during exhibit hours. 

-Araceli- MRS publications

Why Don't More People Attend Sessions About Biomaterials Science?

As a first-time attendee at the Materials Research Society Spring Meeting and Exhibit, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. After all, I hadn't worked in the surface finishing industry in more than a decade. Did I still have what it took to understand the science, or had things changed so much that that my current knowledge base had become defunct?

The animated buzz of scientists, researchers, media, and other conference attendees echoed down the enormous halls of the Phoenix Convention Center-- a familiar reminder of my former life as both a student scientist and later as a chemist. En route to my session, I couldn't help but notice that many meeting rooms were standing room only. By the time I passed the fifth room that "spilled over" with occupants, my brisk walk had broken into a frantic scurry. 

'What will I do if I can't get a seat?' I thought, the Type A personality panic rising in my throat. I needed to hold my laptop in my lap since there were no tables, and I struggle to read my own handwriting whether writing while seated or standing. Luckily, my fear quickly faded away when I saw many vacant seats. But then, that same observation replaced my fear with disappointment when I realized the sparsity of the session's attendance.  

Why weren't more people attending the session? 

All the technical talks held in my room were tandem sessions about the different applications of smart hydrogels and living materials, whereas all the other rooms hosted lectures about inanimate materials.   Given the amount of research and the importance of biomaterials in stem cell therapy, cancer research, and regenerative medicine, I found myself puzzled as to why such hot topics as 3D printing and new approaches to stem cell therapy failed to draw a larger crowd. 

As a scientist, I'm afraid I must report that my curiosity remains unsatiated, as I have yet to find a logical answer to this question. But hopefully, attendance of lectures about biomaterials science will experience an upswing in years to come as technology continues to revolutionize healthcare as we know it.

And as for my ability to follow the talks of the day and "keep up" with the talks? I did just fine.  

An Introduction to AI for Materials Development

Following on my earlier post, Krishna Rajan gave the first research talk after Benji Maruyama's introduction. Dr. Rajan mentioned that he was pleased to see that the room was packed, saying that 25 years ago, few people would attend such a talk. Back then, no one would call their work informatics - it was just an attempt to computationally understand structure-processing-property relationships. Now, Dr. Rajan leads the University at Buffalo's new Department of Materials Design and Innovation, the goal of which is develop an "AI-centric" materials science curriculum to close the knowledge gap between experiment and theory. 

Following on Maruyama's point about data in materials science, Dr. Rajan argued that "We don't need more data, we need the right data. This means while we will collect more data, but we should have an a priori understanding" of what to prioritize and what connections we need to make between data. He made an analogy to another collaboration that uses the acronym MGI besides the Materials Genome Initiative, which is the Mouse Genome Initiative. Dr. Rajan pointed out that in publications about the mouse-MGI they don't stress the size of their data (though there is a lot), they focus on connections between data points and across data sets. He also pointed out that in materials research, our data sets can be sparse because we don't have data on the same properties across all materials. 

Dr. Rajan gave an example of discovering data systematics in materials science research. His group used informatics techniques to understand relationships governing  miscibility in binary metal alloys. These are all relatively simple systems, but the data shows complicated behavior that isn't intuitively obvious. By using computational manifold approaches to analyze the physical experimental data, they simulated connections between data that could potentially explain the behavior. The algorithms discovered a similarity to behavior in rare earth elements and found subnetworks between data points based on oxidation, stability, and solvus temperature that potentially explain the miscibility data. 

This informatics approach can also be extended beyond just physical properties of materials. Dr. Rajan encouraged the audience to realize that "data is currency" and for materials researchers to collaborate and share data with researchers from other fields. For instance, adding data on the environmental and health impact of materials can enable informatics analysis for sustainability in collaboration with social scientists and toxicologists. Since biology also cares about structure-property relationships, Dr. Rajan says this combined informatics approach can help identify the processing steps where materials are most hazardous. 

Dr. Rajan closed by talking about his excitement at the growth of this field in the materials science community. He said that until recently, he mainly talked to computer scientists because other materials researchers weren't interested in informatics for their work. Now both the materials and computational research communities are interested in this expanding field that could revolutionize how we develop materials. 

What does it mean to add AI to materials research?

In one of the "Late News" breaking sessions today, MRS began a forum about using artificial intelligence for materials development. Benji Maruyama from the Air Force Research Laboratory opened it by talking about the future of research. Dr. Maruyama said that "we are at an inflection point for AI for materials development" as more large initiatives get funding by agencies like the Departments of Defense and Energy and more workshops are created to encourage collaboration in the field. 

He gave the audience some questions to consider, too. First, he wanted us to consider what bottlenecks currently exist in materials science research and what ways might AI speed it up. Currently, it takes about 30 years for a material to be developed from a new field of research into a usable technology. Dr. Maruyama said there was even a MURI on trying to completely automate research by having AI using data from simulations and experiments to give instructions to robots capable of performing physical experiments. As that technology improves, he asked us to consider "what if we have a Moore's law for the speed of research" and made an analogy to 3D printing: as it becomes cheaper and faster to do research, more people can potentially learn to use the tools, like how many high schools now have 3D printers students can use. At the same time, this can change the nature of research. Can materials science become a field ripe for citizen science? How can human researchers work with AI/robotic researchers? Do the questions we ask change when we can automate more experiments?

He also pointed out that materials science can be unique in how our data sets work compared to other fields interested in machine learning and AI. Materials data sets are often relatively sparse and have limited connections compared to the large sets seen in original tech fields like social networking. To encourage more community discussion in this area, Dr. Maruyama said the MRS Fall 2018 meeting will have its first open symposium on machine learning for materials development for anyone to submit abstracts to.


Recording Cell Activity by Graphene Field-Effect Transistors

Jongyun Choi from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign gave a talk on the graphene field-effect transistors (FET) to modify cellular activity based on cellular response. The mechanism is to detect the biophasic current which is related to the opening/closing of the ion channels. Crumpled/3D patterns of the graphene were also developed to increase the device sensitivity.

3D Printed Functional Materials & Devices

Michael C. McAlpine from the University of Minnesota introduced a 3D printing technique that can print electronic devices such as bio-integrated layer-by-layer sensors and biomedical neural regenerative devices. In his talk, he showed the 3D printed biodegradable hydrogel scaffold which has created line-by-line morphology that can guide neural cell growth for neural repair. The in vitro study proved cell regenerative and in vivo study of the rat implanted with this scaffold also recovered after surgery #s18mrs

What is Graphene Soft Matter and Why Does it Matter?

An important part of research is figuring out the best place to share it, and at MRS, that means choosing which symposium session you think your presentation best fits into. I chose NM08 - Graphene Oxide Liquid Crystals and 2D Soft Material Systems because one of the subtopics is literally my dissertation . In the spirit of outreach, I thought it would be helpful to explain what that means. Soft materials are exactly what they sound like. In materials research, we often make a distinction between hard materials like metals and ceramics and soft materials like polymers and gels. It turns out that the just the way we can consider atoms arranging very compactly for metals and ceramics versus having to consider larger scale structures in polymers and other systems is a useful theoretical split. We see this in colloids, which are what I study. A colloid is a (hopefully) stable system of one (or more) substance evenly dispersed in another, but they are still chemically distinct. If you cook a lot, you’re well on your way to becoming a soft materials scientist because sauces, vinaigrettes, mayonnaise, and many other common food items are examples of colloids (and really all food is soft matter - except some candy). Vinaigrettes are liquid-liquid colloids where the water and oil chemically repel each other.

Colloids with graphene can have many uses. I study the colloids that form when you try to break up graphene into graphite in solution by applying stress. Lots of people study graphene “inks” that they can use to print electronic circuits on other materials or maybe even as part of 3D printing. Adding graphene to some liquids can improve their properties as lubricants or coolants. Modified graphene flakes can absorb pollutants from water. We want these colloids to be stable because if the graphene clumps back together, they may be less useful or in the case of printing, clog up small parts.

Sometimes we can change the liquid we disperse the graphene in to something that is more chemically attractive, like in inks where we want to the liquid to go away once the circuit is printed. But in other applications, we’re more limited in our choice of liquid - there are only so many things you want as a lubricant. In those cases, we can use a trick similar to one a cook may use. Vinaigrette recipes often call for a bit of mustard because a molecule in mustard has one part that likes oil and another that likes water, and it can bring the two together by getting stuck in between. For our case, we can add surfactants with one end that stick to graphene’s surface and a free end that like the liquid.

This work on graphene colloids is still pretty young, so researchers are still testing new chemicals to use with graphene and constantly coming up with new applications for these systems.