• Synthesis of multicomponent colloidal particles

In nanomaterials, new properties can be attained by combining two or more disparate material components into a single system at the nanoscale. A multicomponent nanoparticle (MNP) constitutes such a nanosystem that displays synergetic properties of multiple substances. Despite tremendous progress on the synthesis of single-component nanoparticles, fewer techniques are available to produce MNPs with controllable combination fashions and components. We aim at the development of new synthetic tools for designing novel high-quality MNPs and exploitation of the properties and new applications of MNPs.

  • Self-assembly of functional hybrid materials

Molecules can spontaneously organize into larger structures with fascinating complexities and functions. This process is known as molecular self-assembly. One common example is the self-assembly of lipid molecules into lipid bilayers that form the basis of cell membranes. However, in contrast to molecular self-assembly, the capability of assembling nanoparticles into larger aggregates is still far behind. To tackle this challenge, one of our projects is designed to accomplish a similar goal for nanoparticles that have engineered size, shape and composition. The organization of nanoscale objects relative to one another and to larger structures is vital for their utilization in energy, optoelectronics, sensing, and biomedical applications. Along this line, one of our research focuses is the self-assembly of “hairy” nanoparticles as molecule equivalents into functional hybrid materials and exploit the properties and potential applications of these materials in such as, mematerials, cancer theranostics, smart coatings and optoelectronics. 

  • Biomedical imaging and therapy

Individual inorganic nanoparticles have been widely used in the fields of drug delivery, cancer imaging and therapy. However, there are still many hurdles that limit the performance of individual nanoparticles for these important applications. Ensembles of interacting nanoparticles can exhibit extremely useful collective properties that can be radically different from that of individual nanoparticles. The utilization of nanoparticle ensembles may open a door to resolve current problems at this frontier. We aim to design nanoparticle ensembles for addressing challenges facing the field of biomedicine. For example, we have recently developed a hollow vesicle containing densely-packed metal (such as gold) or magnetic (such as iron oxide) nanoparticles in the membrane. The intrinsic optical or magnetic properties of the vesicles enable us to use light or magnets to excite the vesicles for cancer imaging, cancer therapy, and imaging-guided drug delivery.  

  • Programmable soft materials and bio-Microfluidics 

Material systems in nature (i.e., plants) perform environmentally responsive movements or shape transformations using anisotropy and hygroscopy. These systems offer new conceptual and practical inspirations for designing truly programmable architectural structures. Inspired by nature, we explore i) new concept of shape transformation materials; ii) dynamic tissue scaffolds for regenerative medicines; iii) optically active soft materials.  

Tubular structures such as vascular vessel, renal tubules and salivary ducts operate important machinery to not only enable materials (i.e., nutrition, oxygen, waste) to move quickly throughout the organism, but also prevent the formation of deposits or blockage.  Reconstruction of tubular tissues in vitro offers a new scenario of opportunities in areas including implantable organs or devices, drug and toxic screening, and cell biology. We reprogram and culture cells (i.e., kidney proximal tubular cells) to generate lumens with circular shapes and functional polarized monolayer in microfluidics. Using this in-vitro model, we conduct a new line of research towards: i) the real-time observation of kidney stone formation; and ii) the study of nano-carriers cross vascular membranes during drug/gene delivery.