When I was planning for my upcoming sabbatical leave last year, I thought of my trip to Brazil about two years ago, when I co-organized the ICG funded international workshop on challenges of molecular dynamics simulations of glass and amorphous materials at São Carlos, SP, Brazil. I contacted my co-organizer and host Prof. Edgar Zanotto, who was a former Fulbright Scholar and highly recommended the Fulbright experience. He suggested the Fulbright US Scholar program that supports academic faculty, as well as other professionals, in the US to do exchanges with institutions abroad. Named after the former Senator J. William Fulbright and established right after the World War II, the US department of State sponsored program has provided numerous opportunities through its exchange programs to students, faculty and researchers to perform cultural exchanges and to improve intercultural relations and understanding. As I have an interest in knowing the higher education and research development systems in other cultures, as well knowing great work of the glass research group (Vitreous Materials Lab, LaMaV) led by Prof. Zanotto at São Carlos, I applied for the Fulbright US Scholar Program and was later awarded.
Built upon LaMaV, a state-funded multi-institution and cross-disciplinary center CeRTEV on glass science and technology research was established in 2013 in São Carlos. It is probably one of the largest academic glass research centers in the world. The center covers fundamental researches in fields such as glass structure, nucleation and crystallization, relaxation, diffusion processes, solid-state NMR, EPR, Raman, and EXAFS spectroscopy for structure characterization, and recently molecular dynamics simulations of glasses, as well as Machine Learning techniques. Besides, the center also focuses on glasses and glass-ceramics for technological applications in fields such as dental and biomedicine, optics, solid state electrolyte, and energy storage. Interestingly, there is tremendous overlap of research interests at CeRTEV and my group “Functional Glasses and Materials Modeling (FGM2) Laboratory” at my home institution. This overlap provides many opportunities of collaboration, especially to understand structures of complex glass systems, structural origin of properties, glass transition and crystal nucleation behaviors in glass-forming liquids by using atomistic computer simulations.
My trip to São Carlos was a very refreshing one. On the bus from São Paulo to São Carlos, I was amazed by how beautiful and green it was on the road and in the areas surrounding the city. After all, we are still winter in north America but here is right in the middle of the summer in the southern hemisphere. The subsequent visits of the city and areas around it proved my observations that it is such a beautiful place and an EXCELENT time to visit. Upon arrival, in the second week, Prof. Zanotto organized a one-day workshop for my visit to help to understand mutually interested research topics and it turned out to be such an enjoyable experience. I gave an overview of the areas of glass research from my group, especially those using molecular dynamics computer simulations to understand glass structure and structural origin of properties, an area that I felt there are significant opportunities for collaboration. Faculty, postdoc research staff, graduate students from CeRTEV filled the one-day program with outstanding presentations of many of the exciting research topics on glass structure, crystallization, glass-ceramics, and 2 their applications in biomedicine and energy storages. I realized that there are several topics of common interests, such as structure of glasses, bioactive glasses, glass and glass-ceramic solidstate electrolytes. Many thoughts and ideas of collaborations were generated during the discussion between and after the presentations. I felt this is such a great way of exchange of ideas, the essence of the Fulbright program.
After the workshop and discussions, several interesting topics were identified and collaborations initiated. These topics include understanding the nucleation of lithium disilicate glasses by using molecular dynamics simulations, structural origin of an ultra-strong glass recently developed at LaMaV, mixed alkali effect in bioactive glasses, and structural heterogeneity and phase separation in oxyfluoride glasses. These topics will be the focus during my visit and subjects of collaboration in the years to come.
In addition to scientific exchanges, I also have had the chance to experience the city of São Carlos, home to two prominent universities: the Federal University of São Carlos and THE University of São Paulo, São Carlos campus. Coming from a college town of Denton, Texas where is also home to two universities (University of North Texas and Texas Woman’s
University), I enjoy the vibrant college town culture in the city. Another observation is the high level of internationalization of the center, and probably the university as well. Not only the advisory board is made up known glass researchers from around the world, the faculty, researchers, as well as the graduate student body are also very international. This makes English a common language in the center for communication. However, outside of the campus, learning some Portuguese has been proven to be very helpful to get around. I also truly enjoyed the history of the city and the surrounding areas in the state of São Paulo and appreciated the hospitality of the faculty, staff and students. I still have a few weeks to go to really enjoy the journey as a Fulbright Scholar in Brazil.
About the author: Dr. Jincheng Du is a Professor at the Department of Materials Science and Engineering of University of North Texas, Denton, Texas. He is the current Chair of the Glass and Optical Materials Division of American Ceramic Society. His research focuses on atomistic computer simulations and characterizations of glasses and amorphous materials, as well as their functional applications for energy, biomedicine, and environments. Dr. Du is the receipient of the Fulbright US Scholar Award, the W.S.E Turner Award of ICG, and the Gordon S. Fulcher Distinguished Scholar of Corning Inc.