Research[ Mingjun's Research Interests | Introduction to General Interests | Projects ]
Mingjun's Research InterestsResearch is a great fun! As an academic faculty member, the "fun" stems from the combination of students' interests, society's needs, funding agencies' expectations, and my personal interests.
My laboratory and I strive and take great pride in pursuing excellent research. I come from a broad educational background and have diverse industrial experiences; thus allowing my laboratory to pursue multidisciplinary research that spans between engineering, biology and medicine. Different from traditional subject-focused research, we strive to distinguish our research by pursing unique ideas and techniques to bring significant insights and to bridge gaps among different disciplines. As an application oriented academic research laboratory, we pursue basic engineering science research that has significant translational, broader and long-term impacts to society.
For the past several years, with support from the National Science Foundation, the Army Research Office and industry, we have been able to pursue a bio-inspired nanoparticle and nanomanufacturing research program. With the continuous support from the Office of Naval Research, we have been able to build our unique bio-inspired robotics program with a focus on bio-inspired propulsion mechanisms across scales. Through collaborations with colleagues in various institutes and laboratories, our current research efforts focus on 1) bio-inspired peptide nanoparticles with unique optical, electrical and mechanical properties; 2) bio-inspired peptide hydrogels with stiffness tunable and micro-environment adaptive capabilities; and 3) bio-inspired underwater robotics. Currently, our basic science research is being translated to the areas of cancer diagnosis and treatment, Alzheimer's disease diagnosis and progression prediction, regenerative medicine, and underwater robotics. By integrating our expertise on bio-inspired robotics and bio-inspired nanoparticles, we see emerging research opportunities to contribute to 1) autonomous underwater robotics, and 2) self-assembled nanoparticle-based sensing, actuation and control. In long-term, we are exploring potential applications in both life sciences and industry.
In 2008, our research group first discovered that ivy secretes nanoparticles involved in surface affixing (Nano Letters). In 2010, our group found that the highly elastic adhesive secreted from sundew plants is a naturally occurring hydrogel, and that the hydrogel could be used to create nano-scaffolds for tissue engineering (J. Royal Society, Interface). In 2011, our group discovered a unique multi-flagella-based swimming mechanism of Giardia that may be used for inspiration of micro/nano-robot propulsion system design (PNAS). In 2012, our group discovered that the curved swimming trajectories of whirligig beetles were more energy efficient than linear trajectories, thus explaining why they are observed more often in nature (PLoS Computational Biology). In 2013, our group discovered that nanoparticles secreted from a carnivorous fungus have immunostimulatory properties and exhibit mild cytotoxicity (Advanced Functional Materials). In 2014, our group reported that T. foetus uses distinct flagellar beating motions for linear swimming and turning, similar to the "run and tumble" strategies, and that multi-flagellated propulsion does not necessarily contribute to greater thrust generation. This work demonstrated how swimming mechanism evolve to promote greater maneuverability and sensing in certain species (J. Royal Society, Interface). Our group also developed an approach to produce tea nanoparticles that have been proposed for use in drug delivery and cancer therapeutics (Oncotarget). In 2015, our group synthesized the first GFP/YFP-inspired fluorescent dipeptide nanoparticle that can shift ultraviolet light to visible range (Nature Nanotechnology). In 2016, our research group concluded that the nano-spherical Arabinogalactan Proteins (AGPs) are a key component for the high-strength adhesive secreted by English ivy (PNAS). This is a significant milestone after 8 years' of research endeavor to identify the underlying molecular mechanism of the high-strength ivy adhesive and to characterize the proteinaceous nature of the ivy nanoparticles.