Zhang Laboratory


The understanding of collective phenomena is, and will remain for a long time, one of the major intellectual challenges in many research fields, from physics to economics. Conventional statistical methods have been successfully applied to describe systems at or near equilibrium, but they often fail to provide accurate predictions for systems and processes away from equilibrium, where time reversal symmetry and ergodicity are readily broken. Yet, patterns of amazing complexity spanning an immense range of hierarchical spatial and temporal scales - ubiquitous in the world around us - are formed from non-equilibrium conditions, such as turbulent flow, structure of the universe, social activities, and life itself. Research on such systems and processes may help identify the rule of randomness and recognize the role of correlated degrees of freedom in the organization and transport of energy and matter. Such quest for universality is motivated by a hope of identifying emergent principles governing non-equilibrium systems.

The research in our group involves on both fundamental science and applications of a range of far-from-equilibrium materials. These materials contain novel far-from-equilibrium structures intentionally designed to achieve specific functions and thus often carry unique properties. Our current research can be roughly divided into two areas: 1) extreme properties of liquids; 2) glassy, jammed, and kinetically trapped soft matter. The goal is to understand long timescale phenomena and rare events in matter and engineer them into transformative applications.

Current projects: 1) Atomic-scale dynamics of metallic liquids, metallic glasses, and high entropy alloys (Jaiswal); 2) Kinetic theory of liquids (Cai); 3) Nucleation and crystal growth (Walter); 4) Viscous flow of ionic liquids and ionic solutions in redox flow batteries (Li). 2) Machine learning analysis of structural and dynamic heterogeneities in liquids (Jaiswal); 5) Extreme phase behavior of water (Cai, Jaiswal, Walter); 6) Effect of impurity and irradiation on the transport properties of liquid Lithium used as a plasma-facing component (Walter, Jaiswal); 7) Irradiation-driven surface pattern formation of bulk metallic glasses (Jaiswal).

Current projects: 1) Energy landscape sampling algorithms, protein folding, self-assembly (Walter); 2) Confined or interfacial liquids and biomolecules, encapsulated protein (Cai); 3) Kinetically trapped molecular cage assemblies, porous liquid (Walter, Cai); 4) Adaptive/self-healing ionic materials: ionic glass, gel, and rubber. (Yang); 5) Rigidity control of liquids and soft materials, soft robotics and soft machines (Zhou).