What: Our research is inspired by the amazing protein machinery in biological systems. We are interested in creating artificial molecular machines that can serve as taskable agents for engineering applications. Research projects in the lab focus on developing both theoretical and experimental tools that help design, fabricate, and characterize such tiny molecules. Some driving questions for our projects are:

  1. What is the most effective way to arrange atoms and molecules into functional molecular parts.
  2. How do we design molecular interactions so that simple molecular parts can perform collective functions across scales.
  3. How to integrate molecular machines with novel technological platforms to achieve practical applications.
  4. What engineering problems can we solve using these tiny molecules/nanomachines.

Why: Living organisms are great engineers. They build systems with complex morphologies and diverse functions in a highly efficient manner. Programmable biomolecules (e.g. nucleic acid and protein) enable biological systems’ superb engineering capabilities. We want to learn from biology and develop bottom-up engineering capabilities that are cost-effective and efficient. The outcome of our research is translational to applications in healthcare, agriculture, energy and environments.

How: We use biomolecules and nanomaterials as our building blocks to design and fabricate functional molecular parts (e.g. molecular motors, optical sensors, dynamic DNA origami structures). These molecular parts are then assembled into nanoscale devices/machines whose functions are defined by the interactions and collective behaviors of its constituent parts (e.g. synthetic cell with programmable motility). We integrate these functional molecules and nanomachines with state-of-the-art technology platforms to solve important problems we are facing in various disciplines. (e.g. real-time continuous biomolecular sensing).

The tools and methods we developed are built upon the incredible works by other labs from research communities such as DNA nanotechnology and synthetic biology. A high-level overview of our research is shown below.