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Mechanical and Civil Engineering Seminar

Thursday, March 9, 2023
11:00am to 12:00pm
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Gates-Thomas 135
Soft Materials Mechanics for Health and Sustainability
Xuanhe Zhao, Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology,

Mechanical and Civil Engineering Seminar Series

Title: Soft Materials Mechanics for Health and Sustainability

Abstract: 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 mechanical, physical, chemical, and biological properties – via bioinspired and rational design of unconventional polymer networks. Then I will illustrate the impacts of soft materials mechanics on health and sustainability with examples including soft robots ​that treat strokes under remote and autonomous control and wearable devices that image deep organs over days. I will propose two challenges in fundamental science and technology:

  • Can we image the full human body over days to months continuously?
  • Can we edit the full human body with micro-robots minimally invasively?

I will conclude the talk with a vision for the future development and impacts of soft materials and systems – aided by and synergized with modern technologies such as artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, and precision medicine.

Bio: Xuanhe Zhao is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT. The mission of Zhao Lab is to advance science and technology between humans and machines for addressing grand societal challenges in health and sustainability. A major focus of Zhao Lab is the study and development of soft materials and systems. Dr. Zhao is a Clarivate Highly Cited Researcher (2018, 2021-Now). He is a co-founder of SanaHeal Inc, a startup company translating bioadhesive technology developed in Zhao Lab. Over ten patents from Zhao Lab have been licensed by companies and contributed to FDA-approved and widely-used medical devices.

NOTE: At this time, in-person Mechanical and Civil Engineering Lectures are open to all Caltech students/staff/faculty/visitors.

For more information, please contact Stacie Takase by phone at (626) 395-3389 or by email at [email protected] or visit