Materials such as blocks of polymers and metals are usually regarded as passive and static. Without electronics and power supply, the functionality of freestanding materials is highly limited. Is it possible to fabricate freestanding materials that are "intelligent"?


Nature has shown us many fascinating biological systems that are not tethered to any sources of energy and yet are highly functional. For example, cells with the size of a few micrometers are capable of many highly complex operations and are regarded as having a primitive form of intelligence. On the other hand, man-made systems are currently far from being as functional and as intelligent as cells.

We investigate the possibility of fabricating chemical systems that can be regarded as "intelligent". The system may include a combination of different types of functions. One major class of functions is the analytical processing unit, which includes logical operations and memory. The system may also have regulatory functions such as feedback operations and amplification for optimal control. Practical functions are important for responding to the surrounding environment (e.g., motion, actuation, and communication).

We seek to study the fundamental principles of constructing "intelligent" chemical systems and fabricate them. The investigation includes using advanced types of materials (e.g., stimuli-responsive polymers, particles, and coatings), interesting reactions, and engineering specific transport of molecules (e.g., diffusion and convection) for fabricating the systems. By making use of the advanced properties of polymeric materials and integrating the different important types of functions in a single system, we move toward creating truly "intelligent" systems that may mostly be constructed out of polymers.

In general, our research is highly interdisciplinary and involves principles from materials, physics, chemistry, and engineering. The research fields that we are interested in include stimuli-responsive polymers, functional particles, charge separation at interfaces (i.e., air, liquid, and solid), electrostatics, reaction-diffusion processes, chemical networks, self-assembly, and cell mechanics.

Group lunch, May 2018