Prof. Fan’s research program focuses on the fabrication, manipulation, and assembly of intelligent, active micro/nanoscale materials, 3D hierarchical porous materials, and stimulus-responsive materials via understanding and exploiting fundamental materials science, physics, and chemistry. The efforts aim to address critical problems in robotics, sensing, biomedicine, water purification, and self-powered systems.
Dr. Fan has over fifteen-year research experience in the fabrication, manipulation, and applications of active matter. She is an inventor of a patent awarded nanomanipulation technique, the “electric tweezers” based on combined AC and DC electric fields, which can transport arrays of nanoparticles in both the X and Y directions with completely controlled transport and alignment along prescribed trajectories at a precision of 300 nm, and seamlessly rotate them with desired angle, speed, and chirality. The technique has been applied to realize the precision drug delivery to a single live cell (Nature Nanotechnology), facile assembly and simultaneous actuation of arrays of rotary nanomotors (Nature Communications), tunable molecule release with the rotation of nanomotors (Angewandte Chemie Int. Ed.), assembly of chemically powered rotary micromotors (ACS Nano), and microscale rotary stepper motors (ACS Nano), all of which have been the first demonstrations.
Recently, Dr. Fan’s team unveiled an effective scheme that can alleviate the dilemmatic issue in nanosensing, i.e., the difficulties in obtaining both ultrahigh sensitivity and high-speed in the detection of a trace amount of molecules in aqueous samples. Her team successfully increased the detection speed of trace-amounts of biomolecules by multi-folds with retained high sensitivity, and more importantly, they raveled the working principle and application range by theoretical modeling and calculation (ACS Nano).
Furthermore, Dr. Fan’s group discovered an original mechanism that leads to the highly efficient reconfigurable operation of semiconductor nanomotors (Science Advances). By controlling light intensity, one can facilely choose and switch the mechanical motions of silicon nanomotors instantly and reversibly, including acceleration, deceleration, stop, and reversal of rotation orientation. Neighboring micromotors can be independently manipulated. The fundamental physics was studied (Nature Communications). This actuation mechanism could be potentially utilized for realizing reconfigurable nanorobots that carry out tasks on individuals or in a swarm. Moreover, the operation of the micro/nanodevices in response to external stimuli could be considered as a mechanical analogy of the field-effect transistors, which are the basic building blocks of microchips used in computers, cell phones, laptops, and many electronic instruments. These research projects received support from the National Science Foundation CAREER Award, and regular grants of the National Science Foundation.
Dr. Fan’s group has made unique contributions to biochemical detection with the Surface-Enhanced-Raman-Scattering (SERS) spectroscopy technique. In addition to elucidating the effect of motorizing micro/nanosensors in overcoming the aforediscussed dilemmatic issue in nanosensing, her group has achieved well reproducible, robust, ultrasensitive, and position deterministic SERS substrates with an enhancement factor up to 109– 1010 by structural design and fabrication (Advanced Materials), enhancement with near-field effect (Advanced Functional Materials), and integration on photonic crystals via nanomanipulation (ACS Sensors). Moreover, the SERS nanosensors are manipulated to analyze the membrane chemistry of a live cell (Advanced Functional Materials) and applied to release biomolecules at tunable speeds by controlled electric fields (Chemistry of Materials). The sponsors of the research include the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Army Research Office, and the UT Austin/MD Anderson Cancer Center.
As a materials scientist by training, Dr. Fan also investigates innovative manufacturing approaches of 1D nanostructures and 3D nanoporous materials via engineering materials chemistry, catalysts, and electrostatic self-assembly. The fabrication techniques include electrodeposition, electrochemical selective etching, chemical vapor deposition, and surface modification. Recently she reported the first scalable fabrication approach for the creation of 1D molybdenum disulfide (MoS2) nanoribbons with tunable dimensions and high purity. Her team also reported the manipulation and assembly of such structures and determined their properties in both optoelectronics and water purification (Advanced Materials).
Various 3D micro/nanoporous metallic, carbonaceous, and hybrid structures have been fabricated. Materials and devices have been developed for applications in solar steaming for water treatment (Advanced Energy Materials), portable water purification-collection unisystems (Advanced Materials), flexible all-solid supercapacitors (Advanced Functional Materials), strain sensing for music instrument education (Advanced Materials Technologies), and hand-held self-powered electronics (Advanced Functional Materials). Her most recent invited review article has been published by Nano Today). The research is supported by the Welch Foundation, National Science Foundation, and UT Austin Portugal Program.
Dr. Fan’s research emphasizes new concepts, schemes, and approaches, and she has the following research topics:
- Active materials for miniaturized robots, motors, machines, and motorized electronics
- Discover new working principles for robotization, manipulation, and assembly of nanoparticles
- Innovate tools and platforms to address critical issues in biomedical and electronic research
- Design and synthetic concepts of 3-D nanoporous composite superstructures for soft robotics, water treatment, and self-powered devices
- Nanobiotechnology: optical biochemical sensing, nanocarriers for controlled molecule release, single-molecule detection, surface-enhanced-Raman scattering, single live cell stimulation, and biosignal release
The education goal is to cultivate original thinkers and innovators with high standards in quality and ethics in works. We are always on the lookout for talented and enthusiastic graduate and undergraduate students to join our research group. We also welcome visiting students and scholars.
Contact Prof. Fan:
Email: dfan at austin.utexas.edu