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Kaien Yang

Kaien Yang

Age: 18
Hometown: Annandale, VA

Science: “New Methods for Computing the Configurational Entropy of Deeply Supercooled Liquids with the Potential Energy Landscape”

About Kaien

I am a graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia and am excited to attend Stanford University in the fall to study computer science and explore interdisciplinary applications in chemistry.

In my free time, I enjoy hiking, biking, soccer, playing violin concertos, and sharing Spotify playlists with friends. I also derive great happiness from sharing the joy of tennis with others, and I hopes to continue doing so in the future. 

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"I am incredibly honored and humbled to be named a Davidson Fellow in recognition of my research on supercooled liquids. "

Project Description

When cooled to sufficiently low temperatures, a liquid can either freeze into a solid, or it can become supercooled and transition into a glass. Quantifying the distinctive kinetic behavior of supercooled liquids and glasses in terms of thermodynamics is a difficult problem; in particular, thermodynamics deals with a reaction’s favorability, while kinetics considers the rate of a reaction. I made progress on this problem by applying statistical mechanical techniques to model supercooled liquids. My model provides new insights and an unexpected route to obtain the configurational entropy, an important thermodynamic property of a supercooled liquid, by relating it to several experimentally measurable kinetic parameters which describe the behavior of a system far from equilibrium. My work on the glass transition of supercooled liquids has numerous potential applications ranging from drug delivery to nuclear waste management.

Deeper Dive

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.


What is your favorite Olympic sport?

Canoe Slalom combines speed and precision, and it's the most fascinating sport to watch!

What is your favorite tradition or holiday?

Eating strawberries and cream while watching the Wimbledon finals!

What are the top three foreign countries you'd like to visit?

Spain for its relaxing beaches and rich cuisine; Tanzania for its intimacy with nature through Mt. Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti; and Israel for its stunning historical significance and natural beauty.

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In The News

Washington – The Davidson Fellows Scholarship Program has announced the 2021 scholarship winners. Among the honorees are Timothy Qian, 18, of Rockville, Md.; Eleanor Sigrest, 18, of Woodbridge, Va.; and Kaien Yang, 18, of Annandale, Va. Only 20 students across the country to be recognized as scholarship winners each year.

Download the full press release here