The dynamic properties of soft materials are central to a wide range of engineering and biomedical applications. While the synthesis and structural characterization of soft materials have come a long way, there are still many big gaps in our understanding of soft materials, especially in the realm of dynamics, quantification of intermolecular forces, interconnection among different length scales, and non-equilibrium, time- and rate- dependent physical and engineering properties. The knowledge filling these gaps will allow rational design of functional soft matter interfaces, and has profound implications across a wide range of disciplines, including colloidal and interface science, polymer chemistry and physics, nanotechnology, biomaterials, and biology.
My research expertise is in the fields of soft materials, surface forces, and intermolecular interactions. My PhD research under the supervision of Prof. Jacob Israelachvili at the University of California, Santa Barbara, concerns the nanomechanics of biomaterials and biomimetics. I have performed the experimental and theoretical study on the mussel and gecko adhesive systems and development of bio-inspired polymer surfaces and nano-structured materials. I have conducted a systematic study to demonstrate the importance of interfacial redox of 3,4-dihydroxy-L-phenylalanine (Dopa) to the adhesion and mechanical properties of mussel adhesive proteins. I have also investigated the friction of rough and structured polymer surfaces, and boundary lubrication properties of surface tethered polyelectrolytes.
My postdoc research with Prof. Matthew Tirrell at the University of Chicago/Argonne National Laboratory focuses on the characterization of the structure and functionality of polyelectrolyte brushes. I have combined surface forces apparatus and X ray/neutron scattering techniques to elucidate the structure of polyelectrolyte brushes in the presence of multivalent counterions, the configuration of surface tethered DNA oligomers, and the interactions between lipid membranes and polymers in solution. The knowledge gained is critical for many polyelectrolyte brushes related applications, such as lubrication, antifouling coating for water infiltration process, colloidal stability, biosensor, and drug delivery.
In my independent research, I would like to develop an interdisciplinary research program centered on molecular design of soft matter surfaces for energy and biomedicine applications. The overall goal of my research is to understand the connection between a soft matter system’s molecular interactions and architecture, and its surface properties. I would like to search for the physical laws that govern the structure, dynamics, and cooperative behavior of soft materials at the nano and molecular scale and to develop functional soft matter surfaces through rational molecular design and chemical synthesis.
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