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 adaptive soft materials and living systems to solve challenges in sustainability and health."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 adaptive soft materials, like responsive polymers or biological gels, and living systems, like bacteria or cells and tissues in the human body. We do this using a combination of experimental and theoretical approaches. Our core expertise is polymer physics, polymer chemistry, and voxelated bioprinting, complemented by molecular engineering, bioengineering, macro-/micro-rheology, in situ characterization, microscopy and image analysis, and microfluidics. Very recently, we successfully expanded our capability to in vivo animal studies. Our research is highly interdisciplinary and collaborative. We work closely with experts from different fields to identify and solve problems of both fundamental importance and practical value. Members of our group often start with one area of research and gradually broaden their horizon spanning from physics, chemistry, biology, engineering to medicine.
We focus on three directions:
3D printing of adaptive soft materials. Existing polymers for 3D printing are largely limited to stiff plastics. We develop new design principles to create 3D printable soft materials. Integrating polymer chemistry, polymer physics, molecular theory, and multi-scale modeling, we are establishing molecule-structure-property-function relations for new classes of adaptive soft materials. Using 3D printing, we transform these materials to functional architectures for applications including soft electronics, soft robotics, optical materials, and tissue engineering.
Programmable cell assembly. Inspired by Minecraft, a popular video game that uses individual 3D cubes as voxels to create a virtual world, we develop voxelated bioprinting technologies to assemble cell encapsulated hydrogel particles to create 3D cell assemblies with programmed architecture and function.
Human lung defense. As we are alive, we must breathe. This process of breathing brings bacterial, viral, and environmental particulates into our lungs. How can the lungs fight against them? To answer this question, we develop micro-human airway device to capture the geometric and biological features of human airway and exploit this device to study human lung defense. Integrating soft matter physics, engineering, molecular biology, bioinformatics, and systems biology, we are investigating the interactions between mucus and three indispensable components of the microenvironment: cilia, cells, and bacteria.