In these unprecedented and fluid times, conferences and symposia have gone virtual as STEM collectively settles into a new normal. Many large meetings, like the formerly “in-person only” American Physical Society (APS) and American Chemical Society (ACS) national meetings, have been cancelled or transitioned to virtual-only participation this year. The 2021 Spring APS meeting will go virtual as well. I love big in-person meetings and have shied away from virtual alternatives thinking they would not provide the same feeling of community with my fellow scientists. However, the isolation of quarantine and the desire to get comfortable with the “new normal” motivated me to step out of my comfort zone and into the world of virtual science meetings this summer. So, when the opportunity to attend the 2020 Virtual Polymer Physics Symposium (VPPS) arose in July, I jumped at the chance to participate.
A granular material, such as sand, coffee beans, or balls in ball pit, is a collection of particles that interact with each other and dissipate energy. These materials can act like solids, flow like liquids, or suddenly transition between the two phases – for example, in a landslide, the soil stops holding its shape and flows. The Granular and Particulate Networks Workshop, PARNET19, brought together the physicists, engineers, and mathematicians who study these materials in a series of lectures and discussions.
If you just landed on Softbites for the first time, you probably have not had the chance to read our previous posts about microfluidics (like this one, or that one, and more). If this field of science is foreign to you, all you need to know is that it studies how fluids flow at really small scales (typically tens to hundreds of micrometers). For instance, you can quickly generate tiny droplets of a solution, turning each droplet into an individual “reactor”. Or you can create microenvironments with precisely controlled chemical concentrations to grow cells in different conditions.
From fire ants to spider silk, tooth enamel to lizard scales, and chemistry to computer science, there are lots of opportunities for soft-matter scientists to study biological questions!
This year ESOF was in Toulouse, and I was fortunate enough to be able to attend, so I want to share a few snippets of my time there, and my main takeaways.