BioB.S. Physics, Lanzhou University, 2006Ph.D. Materials Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2012Postdoctoral Fellow, Harvard University, 2013-2017
"We aim to understand and control the interactions between soft active materials and living systems to solve challenges in energy, health, and environmental science."Liheng Cai, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR
Our lab’s interests lie at the interface of soft matter and biology. We aim to understand and control the interactions between active soft materials, like responsive polymers or biological gels, and living systems, like bacteria or cells and tissues in the human body. We do this by using a combination of experimental and theoretical approaches; specific expertise includes polymer physics and chemistry, molecular engineering, macro- and micro-rheology, microscopy and image analysis, microfluidics and 3D printing.
We focus on three directions:
- 3D printable soft materials. 3D printing has the potential of producing novel, structured materials with controlled features on multi-length scales, from microns to millimeters or larger. However, the basic materials available for 3D printing are limited: Plastics remain the most ubiquitous feedstock for industrial and desktop 3D printers. We explore new design principles to create 3D printable soft materials and use those materials to interface with soft biological objects.
- Human lung defense. As we are alive, we need to breathe; and this constantly brings in infectious particulates into our lung. The overarching question we are asking is: How can the human lung fight against numerous inhaled infectious particulates and maintain functional through its lifetime? We use microfluidics to create a novel human airway model to study why human lung defense works for healthy people but fails for patients with chronic lung disease, and use this model to discover therapeutics to restore human lung defense.
- Biofilms. Bacteria often live in complex environments such as gut and soil. Sometimes success bacteria transport does a good thing, but not if they dwell and form colonies or biofilms. Understanding and control interactions between bacteria and complex environments become essential in health and environmental science. Integrating polymer science, molecular engineering, single-cell fluorescence microscopy and microfluidics, we focus on how bacteria as an active swimmer influence the dynamics of surrounding matrices and formation of bacterial colonies or biofilms in mucus and soil.