photo of microgel synthesis

ACS funding helps advance reconfigurable electrocatalysis

Harnessing electromagnetic stimuli, the project aims to manipulate materials for reactions, sensing and structural assembly innovations.

Michigan Chemical Engineering Assistant Professor, Albert Liu recently received funding from the American Chemical Society (ACS) to support his ongoing work in particle-based reconfigurable materials.

The project aims to engineer ‘microgels,’ minute polymer particles with electronic conductivity, responsive to external stimuli such as magnetic or electric fields. With ACS’s backing, the research team will establish synthetic routes and fabrication protocols, encapsulating various nanoparticles to introduce orthogonal magnetic and dielectric properties into polymer microgels. The ultimate goal is to unveil new molecular design principles enabling the creation of distributed, stimuli-responsive materials, offering dynamic modulation capabilities for processes like chemical reactivity.

“Our work is well positioned to provide new insights into designing and creating complex material systems with programmable properties,” Liu said. 

The project has diverse applications, ranging from reaction modulation and distributed sensing to adaptive structural assembly. The ability to manipulate artificial materials at the microscopic level in response to external electromagnetic stimuli opens avenues for technological innovations. Particle-based reconfigurable materials could find applications in biomedical devices, high-performance materials manufacturing and beyond. 

“We feel tremendously fortunate to have received the generous support from the American Chemical Society,” Liu said. “This award provides an ideal springboard for our research group to explore novel synthetic strategies and establish structure-property-function relationships of a new class of hierarchically assembled, particle-based reconfigurable material.”

The programmable nature of particle-based reconfigurable materials introduces exciting prospects for the electric vehicle (EV) sector. These materials could enhance performance and efficiency in EVs, influencing areas such as energy management, advanced sensors, adaptive structural component and innovative energy storage systems.

Fluorescent optical micrograph of the microgel synthesis process. Depicting emulsified microgels encapsulating green fluorescent nanoparticles. Image taken in the Liu lab, prepared by graduate student Sungwan Park and undergraduate student Justin Choi.

Given the complexity of these materials and their responsive nature, the integration of computational methods, simulations and AI-driven approaches is pivotal. The use of artificial intelligence and data-driven modeling in the research process is anticipated to enhance the efficiency and precision of material design, contributing significantly to the overall success of the project.

The ACS grant not only accelerates Liu’s research but also underscores the organization’s commitment to fostering cutting-edge research that has the potential to shape the future of materials science and its diverse applications.

Liu has been an Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Michigan since 2022, he is also an assistant professor by courtesy in the Macromolecular Science and Engineering Program and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. Prior to joining the University of Michigan, Albert completed his post-doctoral training in the School of Medicine at Stanford University with Steven Chu in 2022, during which he developed a nano-structured, bio-electronic interface capable of harnessing external electric fields to deliver and extract genetic information to and from biological systems such as human cancer cells and murine hippocampal neurons.

At Michigan, Liu continues his work in colloidal electronics to develop colloidal robotics for advanced manufacturing, distributed computing and human health.