In integrable systems, solitons are robust, localized traveling waves of unchanged shape, first discovered by John Scott Russell in 1834. In nonintegrable systems, this definition is slightly relaxed to allow small change of shape as the solitons travel. Liquid crystals are dissipative systems, a kind of nontegrable system. In the 1970/1980s, soliton was a hot topic in research. My paper "Propagating solitons in liquid crystals" published in Physical Review Letters in 1982 was the first paper in liquid crystals literature with the word soliton appearing in the title, and the first one that propagating solitons were studied in shearing liquid crystals.

After the pioneering work by Lam in 1982, at SJSU, Lam continued to lead this field, culminating in the book Solitons in Liquid Crystals (Springer, 1992), coedited with Jacques Prost, a top scholar and student of the Nobel laureate Pierre de Gennes. Out of Lam’s 23 soliton papers, 14 were published at SJSU, including a student’s master thesis and an invited review in the journal Chaos Solitons Fractals (1995).