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Caltech Young Investigators Lecture

Wednesday, February 8, 2023
4:00pm to 5:00pm
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Noyes 147 (J. Holmes Sturdivant Lecture Hall)
Towards Soft Intelligent Materials: Reconfigurable Single-Material Soft Microstructures
Shucong Li, Postdoctoral Associate, MIT,


Living organisms are often equipped with adaptive microarchitectures that actively modulate motion, transport, and physical properties through versatile coordinated reconfigurations. Synthetic efforts to mimic such dynamics mostly rely on multimaterial designs to add ever more complexity, which, aside from being technically complicated, narrow opportunities for the bottom-up self-integration seen in living systems. In this lecture, I will introduce orthogonal approaches to this trend to design simple, single-material microstructures capable of versatile self-regulated reconfigurations. First, I will show how diverse non-reciprocal motions emerge in a photoresponsive micropost and their cooperation in microarrays. Next, I will discuss how structural interconnectivity further unlocks unusual deformations in cellular microstructures. Lastly, I will discuss strategies for transforming the fundamental topologies of cellular structures through multiscale polymer-liquid interactions. This material platform provides insight into the future of intelligent soft materials, with broad implications for autonomous multimodal actuators in soft robotics, biomedical devices, and energy harvesting.


Shucong Li is currently a Postdoctoral Associate in the Zhao group at MIT (US), Department of Mechanical Engineering. Her research focuses on applying structural material designs for constructing solar-fueled water harvesting materials in addressing water scarcity challenges. On the fundamental side, she is developing new mechanical computing mechanisms leveraging 3D printing techniques. Before, she worked with Prof. Joanna Aizenberg at Harvard University (US) and obtained her Ph.D. in Chemistry in 2022. Shucong's Ph.D. research interest is in synthetically constructing soft intelligent materials, by exploiting the rich dynamics in molecular switches and self-organizing polymer networks, and its adaptive coupling to mesoscale architectures and macroscale properties, for realizing new autonomous functions in areas of robotics, healthcare, and sustainability. She is a recipient of the 2023 Foresight Fellowship in Molecular Machines Nanotechnology.

This lecture is part of the Young Investigators Lecture Series sponsored by the Caltech Division of Engineering & Applied Science.

For more information, please contact Jennifer Blankenship by email at [email protected].