Qian Chen

 Qian Chen

Contact Information

Materials Science and Engineering
102 Seitz Materials Research Lab MC 230
104 S. Goodwin
Urbana Illinois 61801
Affiliate Faculty
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Additional Campus Affiliations


Professor Qian Chen received her B.S. in Chemistry from Peking University, China (2007), and her PhD in Materials Science and Engineering from UIUC with Prof. Steve Granick (2012). Her doctoral research focused on developing new “bottom-up” strategies for materials construction. She was among the first to encode multiplexed information into colloids in a “Janus” or “patchy” fashion, and to assemble them into functional materials. She found these materials exhibit properties that were new and exciting to the community, including “supracolloidal” reactivity and entropic stabilization of ordering. In 2012, she obtained a Miller postdoc fellowship and worked with Prof. Paul Alivisatos at UC Berkeley. There she explored broadly structural and functional dynamics at nanoscale, including liquid phase TEM and plasmonics based bio-sensing. She pioneered the efforts in unprecedented in situ imaging of biomolecular transformation at nm resolution, and the spatial mapping of nanoscale interactions among colloidal nanocrystals. In 2015 she joined the faculty of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Affiliate of the Department of Chemistry.

Research Description


Our research is focused on the new paradigm of design, fabrication, imaging, and fundamental science of active soft matter, the artificial materials analogue of smart living systems that can self-replicate, self-regenerate, eventually evolvable in structure and function with ever-changing external environment. Such active soft matter is constructed from mesoscopic materials components (synthetic polymers, DNA, nanocrystals, colloids) via a combination of bottom-up assembly and top-down patterning. The different functions of materials components are thus packaged together in a coherent and dynamic manner, and more importantly, give rise to a broad range of applications, including light harvesting, energy conversion, tandem catalysis, capsulation and targeted delivery, and bio-imaging and bio-sensing dependent on their spatiotemporal arrangements. For optimized materials design, we also explore the fundamental physical principles of their emergent collective dynamics, equilibrium and out-of-equilibrium, from many-body interactions at different time and length scales. In particular, we implement and correlate the new imaging tool of liquid phase TEM with optical microscopy to enable mesoscopic imaging of dynamics both macroscopically and at nm resolution. Our big goal of this new imaging platform goes beyond artificial active soft matter: to watch unseen dynamics of living systems, to correlate nanoscale translational and transformational dynamics of biomolecules with their microscale or even macroscopic biological information network.

We employ collective efforts, with our collaborators in chemistry, bioengineering, condensed matter physics, to reveal the underlying organization and design rules for active soft matter at the frontiers of materials science.


  • AFOSR YIP Award (2016)
  • The SN 10: Scientists to Watch by Science News Magazine (2016)
  • Distinguished Visiting Fellow by the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng), UK (2016)
  • Forbes 30 under 30 Science list (2016)
  • Victor LaMer award (2015)