Our research is focused on the surface engineering of nanomaterials to create new nanomaterial tools and assembled structures across multiple length scales. Carbon nanotubes and boron nitride nanotubes that are surface engineered by biomolecules such as DNA and biomimetic glycopolymers are of particular interest. These multifunctional nanomaterials exhibit exceptional optical, electronic, mechanical, thermal, chemical, sensing, and therapeutic properties. Innovative engineering solutions for the structural polydispersity problem of nanomaterials, design of bio-nano hybrids with molecular precision, and macroscale assembly of nanomaterials in a well-controlled manner are keys to advanced technological applications of these materials.

Our goal is to systematically design novel nanomaterials through understanding their structure-property relationships and study the underlying mechanisms of important aspects of these materials including targeted biomolecular interactions and assembly of nanomaterials. These material systems include but not limited to pure-chirality single-wall carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs), SWCNT-hosted organic color centers with carbohydrate functionalities, and solid assemblies of boron nitride nanotubes such as films and fibers. The processing of nanomaterials includes dispersion, purification, surface functionalization, and the production of films and fibers with applied shear.

Our characterization techniques include optical spectroscopy, rheology, and microscopy of nanomaterial samples, with attention focused on elucidating relationships between molecular and assembled structures and their final properties. These engineered materials can be potentially used as multicolor fluorescent probes with precise biological functionalities for biochemical sensing and imaging advancement, thermal management material, and lightweight, strong protective fabrics and coatings.

We are actively recruiting talented and motivated PhD students who are interested in nanomaterials assembly, nanoscale interactions, rheology, and liquid crystal research. Specific research projects include establishing liquid crystals and assembly of nanomaterials for thermal management applications and elucidating carbohydrate-protein interactions utilizing glyconanomaterials for applications in biosensing and antibacterial coatings. Prospective students should contact Prof. Ao with a CV and transcripts.

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