Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Illinois

Ying Diao Research

Phase transformations, Interfacial phenomenon, Molecular Assembly for Energy and Healthcare

Diao Research Group

Ying Diao - professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering
Dr. Ying Diao

Molecular assembly is a subject of long history and inextricably linked to the origin of life, where a set of inanimate molecules can form structures with ever evolving complexity and emergent properties. With the advent of modern drug development, the rise of nanotechnology and most recently the renaissance in energy research, the field has resurged into prominence.

Under this backdrop, new questions arise, demanding understanding and control of molecular assembly at smaller length and time scales, and in more complex systems. It is the goal of my research group to control the solid-state properties by understanding the fundamental molecular assembly processes, and ultimately, to achieve sustainable manufacturing of materials and devices for environment, energy and healthcare applications.

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We are particularly interested in the molecular assembly processes during solution printing of organic functional materials, such as flexible electronics and solar cells etc. Solution printing is en route to transform the ways advanced materials are made, bringing closer an energy-efficient, eco-friendly and personalized future of manufacturing. A key challenge to realizing this future lies in the control of molecular assembly processes during solution printing – a highly non-equilibrium process. The solid-state properties are highly sensitive to molecular packing, morphology and architecture of printed materials.

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We draw upon knowledge from surface science, nanotechnology, fluid dynamics, X-ray science, physical chemistry, etc to gain new insights and to develop novel methods for controlling molecular assembly processes. A reoccurring theme in my group is the design of structured interfaces across multiple length scales for controlling molecular assembly. At different length scales, the surface structures “converse” with assembling molecules in entirely different “languages”, and thereby directing molecular packing and morphology to influence solid state properties by orders of magnitudes.

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To decipher the complex structures of molecular assemblies, we employ a combination of characterization methods. In particular, X-ray based techniques offer valuable insights spanning from micro- to macro-scopic scales. In addition, we probe the dynamics of molecular assembly processes using state-of-the-art in situ X-ray scattering techniques.

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