2020 Triangle Hard Matter Workshop Was a Resounding Success

December 16, 2020 | Elizabeth Witherspoon

Milestone inaugural event for Duke Materials Initiative features top speakers and 300+ attendees

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In a year of compressed academic calendars and virtual conferences, the Duke Materials Initiative (DMI) pivoted from holding the first Triangle Hard Matter Workshop in person to hosting the event virtually. Over 300 faculty, postdoctoral associates and PhD students from not only Duke, North Carolina State and the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, but also from across the U.S. and overseas, including Germany and China, attended the event. Each of the sessions, focused on one of three tracks: Energy Materials, Metamaterials and Quantum Materials, attracted over 100 attendees.

“We went from initial discussions, through planning and execution of this event under extraordinary circumstances,” said Stefan Zauscher, director of DMI and a professor in the Thomas Lord Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science (MEMS). “I am so proud of the faculty, staff, students and postdocs from a range of departments – as well as our distinguished speakers – who came together to make this event a success. Collaboration really is a core strength of DMI and Duke, and this is another example of that.”

The decision to go forward with the workshop in this most unusual year added to that strength, leaders said.  

“For me personally, this workshop was very productive as I learned a lot about what some of my colleagues at Duke work on and even started two very exciting collaborations!” said Natalia Litchinitser, professor of electrical & computer engineering and organizer of the Metamaterials track.

What began at the beginning of the pandemic lockdown in March as planning for an in-person meeting turned into a period of uncertainty followed by a full pivot to a virtual platform when it became clear that physical distancing would last through 2020 and beyond. Not only that, as hopes were dashed for hosting an on-campus event amid the autumn colors of a Fall Break at Duke, with tours of facilities and the personal networking central to these events, the organizers decided to move the event to a time after the compressed semester ended. Despite these adversities, the workshop turned out to be a resounding success.

 “I learned a lot about what some of my colleagues at Duke work on and even started two very exciting collaborations!”

Natalia Litchinitser, professor of electrical & computer engineering and organizer of the Metamaterials track

“This was one of the best-organized virtual workshops I've attended in the COVID era,” wrote Jeremy Carlo, associate professor of physics at Villanova University. “And because of travel time and end-of-semester responsibilities, it would have been very difficult for me to attend if not in the virtual format.”

Sara Haravifard, the William M. Fairbank Assistant Professor of Physics and organizer of the Quantum Materials track, invited Carlo and other colleagues from across the U.S. and overseas.

To pull it off, the organizers used a combination of Zoom links for delivery of the opening remarks by Zauscher, Valerie Ashby, Dean of Duke’s Trinity College of Arts & Sciences; Ravi Bellamkonda, Dean of Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering; plenary talks by Mercouri Kanatzidis, Professor of Chemistry, Northwestern University; Sir John Pendry, Professor of Physics, Imperial College of London; and Robert Cava, Professor of Chemistry, Princeton University.

Scientific research sessions by track ran concurrently, with additional sessions featuring talks by representatives from national laboratories and the Triangle universities’ shared instrumentation facilities.

For the 90-minute poster session, authors of each of the 33 posters remained in separate breakout rooms so attendees could drop in and out the same way attendees wander through a large conference center hall and speak to different poster authors at in-person science conferences.

“To me, the surprise was how engaging the poster session turned out to be,” said Olivier Delaire, Associate Professor in MEMS and organizer of the Energy Materials track. “I could tell people really enjoyed live one-on-one chats and bumping into colleagues in front of posters. It could have lasted longer, and we could have all enjoyed a cold one while we strolled through more posters after judging.”

Awardees for best posters will receive Amazon gift cards. They were:

Postdocs/Early Career Scientists Winner:

Yi Yao, Duke/UNC-CH, Poster #4 Energy Materials

Title: "Neural Network Assisted First Principles Molecular Dynamics Simulation of Liquid Water with MP2 and RPA: Temperature Dependence of the Dynamical Properties and the Nuclear Quantum Effect"

Runner Up: Zhenzhong Shi, Duke, Poster #25 Quantum Materials

Title: "High Pressure Neutron Scattering Studied of the Plaquette State of the Shastry-Sutherland Compound SrCu2(BO3)2"

Graduate Students Winner:

Yang Deng, Duke, Poster #20 Metamaterials

Title: "Deep Learning for the Inverse Design of All-Dielectric Metasurfaces"

Advisor: Willie Padilla (Duke ECE)

Runner Up: Matthew Chagnot, NCSU, Poster #15 Energy Materials

Title: "Understanding Li+ Intercalation into Hydrated Layered Molybdenum Oxides"

Advisor: Veronica Augustyn, (NCSU MSE)