[image above] Open-air networking between sessions at PACRIM12-GOMD. Credit: ACerS
By Yin Liu
As a first-time PacRim attendee and second-time recipient of the NSF travel award, I feel myself immersed in a vastly changing world, even on an “isolated” Pacific island from the main continent. I got my Ph.D. in ceramics in May, and this conference is an excellent opportunity to refresh myself and to rethink future pathways for a new graduate.
This year’s Young Investigators Forum focused on multifunctional materials and the effect of convergence on education, research and industrialization. As a newly graduated Ph.D., I began to turn my attention to young researcher career development. Dr. Lynnette D. Madsen gave an introductory talk on NSF’s new focus on science convergence, which calls for a deepening integration between scientific research, social responsibility, and sustainability. Even though this talk catered to some junior professors rather than students, I got inspired by the notion that any potential or tentative research goals should include some sort of responsibility. It should be realized that any advances and breakthroughs via scientific research, should result from, and result in ideological forces shaping the culture and social behaviors. To be more specific, when designing our research projects, we should think more about a concrete outcome that we expect to achieve, or to meet the society demands.
In this sense, Dr. Benayas followed up with another talk on choosing career path towards a permanent position. At some point, people may find themselves between a rock and a hard place to achieve both research and career goals. Materials science is always full of mystery and Mother Nature can be simultaneously simple yet complicated. However, it is always necessary to converge all aspects into a single quest: how this work will impact our society? I think Dr. Benayas’ talk may reflect some of the bewildered junior researchers, including me. Change or not change, I think one of the real answers could be: as long as we are able to make different paths converge eventually, to an extent that is solid in nature philosophy and beneficial for our serving community, the proposition of change or not change will become invalid.
Besides the unfettered personal thinking on the theme of convergence, there are still many other technical novel ideas driving me to advance my own research. For example, the focus for this year’s YIF is multifunctional materials. Multifunctional materials can be potentially used in many emerging applications where two or more properties are demanded. It can be a composite with different functional components, or a monolithic material with synergistic properties. The multifunctional material is also a simple example for “convergence”. Materials scientists should present the capability of crosslinking different disciplines and work to address practical problems. Future academic study may involve the consideration of multiple critical issues and utilization of interdisciplinary knowledge towards a converged research approach and a clearer goal.
Editor’s note: Liu is a recipient of an NSF-funded travel grant to attend PacRim12. The award was made to Surojit Gupta of the University of North Dakota.