I became interested in supercooled liquids when I went glass blowing, an intricate process where I transform a searing red-hot liquid into a beautiful artistic sculpture. At the 2020 Research Science Institute, I researched the underlying physical characteristics of supercooled liquids. A key thermodynamic property of a supercooled liquid is its configurational entropy, which governs many aspects of the system’s behavior at low temperatures. The configurational entropy, however, is difficult to experimentally determine because calculating it involves accurately measuring many components of the heat capacity with minimal error. To overcome this limitation, I constructed a diffusion model using statistical mechanics and nonequilibrium thermodynamics to compute the configurational entropy through experimentally measurable kinetic parameters which describe the system's dynamics far from equilibrium. A comparison of my diffusion model with experimental data yields a direct method to determine the configurational entropy of a supercooled liquid.
Developing a framework to completely describe the striking behavior of supercooled liquids and glasses is a great challenge; as Physics Nobel Laureate Philip Anderson wrote, “The deepest and most interesting unsolved problem in solid state theory is probably the theory of the nature of glass and the glass transition.” Two of the most challenging aspects of this project were developing a strong internalization of the existing work on supercooled liquids, and designing complex techniques to address the research goal. Professor Udayan Mohanty from Boston College provided tremendous guidance about the field and encouraged me to try a new approach when a previous attempt failed to come to fruition. I am also incredibly grateful to Dr. Mahfuza Ali, a scientist and Carlton Society winner at 3M, whom I first met in 2016 when he was named a top 10 national finalist in the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. Dr. Ali has provided invaluable insights about the scientific process, and her prolific inventions are a true inspiration to me.
My work derives new properties regarding the glass transition, an ancient phenomenon that continues to offer innovative applications in our modern world. My research advances the understanding of supercooled liquids and paves the way for the more effective design of new applications such as nuclear waste storage, drug delivery, and solar photovoltaics.