Applied Mechanics Colloquia

Soft Materials Innovation for Health and Sustainability

Xuanhe Zhao, MIT

Mar 23, 2022

Polymers and water are the major components that constitute most living species on the earth, ranging from animals, plants, and fungi to bacteria. Polymers are also pervasive and indispensable in almost every aspect of our daily life, ranging from food, clothing, housing, and healthcare to transportation, communication, and entertainment. Furthermore, over 6% of global electricity generated from coal is used to make plastics, and microplastics are already ubiquitous in global biosphere. Intrigued by their ubiquity and impacts, MIT Zhao Lab is focused on the study and development of soft materials and systems, mainly constituted of polymers and water. In this talk, I will first discuss a general strategy to design new soft materials that possess extreme physical, chemical, and biological properties – via bioinspired and rational design of unconventional polymer networks. Then I will illustrate the impacts of soft materials innovation on health and sustainability with examples: i). bioadhesives capable of instant strong adhesion on diverse wet dynamic tissues and devices for future wound sealing, hemostasis, bioelectronics, and wearable devices; ii). magnetic soft robots capable of teleoperated and autonomous neurovascular surgery for remotely treating stroke which is globally #1 cause of long-term disability and #2 cause of death; iii). hydrogels capable of solar-driven atmospheric water harvesting that can potentially address the worldwide lack of safe drinking water for 2 billion people. I will conclude the talk with a vision for the future development and impacts of soft materials and systems – aided by and synergized with technologies such as artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, and precision medicine.

Speaker Bio

Xuanhe Zhao is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Civil and Environmental Engineering at MIT. The mission of Zhao Lab is to advance science and technology on the interfaces between humans and machines for addressing grand societal challenges in health and sustainability with integrated expertise in materials, mechanics, and biotechnology. A major focus of Zhao Lab's current research is the study and development of soft materials and systems. Dr. Zhao is the recipient of the NSF CAREER Award, ONR Young Investigator Award, SES Young Investigator Medal, ASME Hughes Young Investigator Award, Adhesion Society’s Young Scientist Award, Materials Today Rising Star Award, and Clarivate Highly Cited Researcher. Six patents from Zhao Lab have been licensed by startup and established companies and contributed to widely used medical devices such as hydrogel-elastomer tissue phantoms.



Frans A. Spaepen


Jennifer Vasquez