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Disruptive technologies enabled by nanoscale materials and devices will define our future in the same way that microtechnology has done over the past several decades. Our current research centers on the design and synthesis of novel nanomaterials for a broad range of applications, including nanomedicine, regenerative medicine, cancer theranostics, tissue engineering, controlled release, catalysis, and fuel cell technology.

1. New Chemistry, Physics, and Materials Science of Nanocrystals

his research thrust focuses on a long-standing problem in chemistry and physics--understanding and control of the nucleation and growth involved in a synthesis of nanocrystals with controlled size, shape, and other properties. We aim to bring revolutionary advances to this field by developing new tools capable of capturing, identifying, and quantifying the nuclei (small clusters) and seeds that bridge atomic species and nanocrystals. This research requires the integration of chemical synthesis, theoretical modeling, and electron microscopy analysis. It will provide an atomistic picture of the evolution pathway from atoms to seeds and nanocrystals, as well as the design rules for synthesizing metal and semiconductor nanocrystals with controlled electronic, magnetic, catalytic, and optical properties. The ultimate goal of this work is to build a scientific base for the large-scale production of nanocrystals with the specific properties sought for applications in areas such as electronics, photonics, catalysis, optical sensing, biomedical research.

2. Putting Nanomaterials to Work for Biomedical Research

Because of their small sizes and unique properties, nanocrystals are finding widespread use in studying complex biological systems. This work aims to advance biomedical research by developing new tools and methods based on functional nanocrystals. Our current efforts include development of gold nanocages as contrast agents for optical imaging modalities (e.g., optical coherence tomography, photoacoustic tomography, and multi-photon luminescence), and as photothermal agents for therapeutic treatment. We are exploring the use of gold nanocages and other metal nanocrystals as substrates for SERS- and LSPR-based detection. We are developing nanoscale capsules by integrating gold nanocages with smart polymers and/or phase-change materials for targeted delivery and controlled release with superb spatial/temporal resolutions. We are applying electrospun nanofibers to neural tissue engineering, drug delivery, stem cell research, and repair of tendon-to-bone insertion. In addition, we are designing new colloidal particles with superparamagnetic features for separation, detection, manipulation, and  tracking of biological species and cellular events. All these research activities will contribute to the emerging fields of nanomedicine and regenerative medicine.

3. Facet-controlled Nanocrystals for Catalysis

Nanocrystals hold the key to the continuous progress towards a cleaner environment and sustainability. We aim to demonstrate the fabrication of facet-controlled nanocrystals with optimized properties for  a range of related applications. For example, we are exploring the use of facet-controlled nanocrystals for improving the performance of  fuel cells and catalytic converters. This research requires a superb understanding of structure-property relationships that guide the design and synthesis of novel nanocrystals with well-controlled sizes and shapes (or facets) for specific applications.

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