Molecular and colloidal self-assembly; Microfluidics and microreactors; Soft nanotechnology; Nanoscience and nanochemistry; Plasmonics and metamaterials; Biomedicine and medical diagnostics; Biomineralization and bioinspired materials.
Major Recognitions and Honors
Zhihong Nie Group: Nanoparticle chemistry and self-assembly, soft materials, microfluidics
Our mission is to develop new concepts for the synthesis and design of new nano- and micro-structured materials with advanced applications. We conduct fundamental and applied research at the intersection of science, engineering, biology, and medicine. We aim at: (a) the synthesis, fabrication, and self-assembly of functional nanostructures for renewable energy, chemical sensing, and biomedicine; (b) the study of biomineralization and bio-inspired soft materials with structural hierarchy; (c) the exploration of microfluidics for chemical synthesis, biological study, and medical diagnostics.
Self-assembly of new functional materials: Self-assembly is ubiquitous in nature, from the crystallization of snowflaks to the formation of galaxies. Particularly, self-assembly in biological systems leads to remarkably complex structures (i.e., microtubes, virus) which far surpass traditional materials in both design and functionality. 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. Inspired by biological assembly, our efforts involve i) rational design of complex building blocks for assembly new materials; ii) developing original design rules to facilitate the design of new structured materials; iii) self-assembly of novel materials for sustainable energy, sensing, and bioimaging and drug/gene delivery. (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2012, 134, 3639; Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2012, 51, 3628; Science 2010, 329, 197-200).
Microfluidic mimicking of biological tubules for studying pharmacokinetics and diseases: 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 the areas including implantable organs or devices, drug and toxic screening, and cell biology. We reprogram and culture cells (i.e., kidney proximal tubular cells, and salivary gland ductal cells) overall the wall of microfluidic devices to generate lumens with circular shapes and functional polarized monolayer. Using this in-vitro model, we conduct a new line of research directed towards: i) the real-time observation of kidney stone formation; and ii) the study of nano-carriers cross vascular membranes during drug/gene delivery. (Microfluidic 3D cell culture: potential application for tissue-based bioassay, Bioanalysis, 2012, Accepted)
Biomimetic programmable soft materials for tunable optics and tissue engineering: Material systems in nature (i.e., plants) perform environmentally responsive movements or shape transformations using anisotropy and hygroscopy. These systems offers 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.