It is known that living cells interact with their micro and nanoscale environments. We created a variety of nanoengineered surfaces which can interact with living cells grown on top. Two particular examples will be demonstrated. The first one is ultrasensitive 3D confocal fluorescence microscopy imaging of living cells enabled by a nanoplasmonic device surface. The 3D fluorescence imaging sensitivity for living cells was enhanced for up to 100 folds. Low number of fluorescent membrane proteins on living cells can be visualized at the maximal laser scanning rate in confocal imaging and yet with high signal-to-noise ratio, owing to the optical interaction between the spheroidal cells and underlying nanoplasmonic surface. The second example is cell mechanics and migration study on a high-density flexible polymer nanopillar array surface. The mechanical interactions between the living cells and the flexible nanopillars change the cell morphology and migration patterns to be distinctively different from the case of cell growth on planar surfaces. The results suggest that the living cell behavior can be even actively controlled by programmable flexible polymer nanopillar arrays.
"My research area lies at the intersection of engineering, physics, chemistry, biology and information technology including both theoretical and experimental aspects. Particularly I have been extremely interested in studying the micro and nano scale interface between solid-state electronic/photonic system and biological system. My research efforts have been dedicated to understand and control molecular and cellular systems using nanoengineering methods for the benefit of curing diseases, and improving life quality and preserving environmental sustainability.
Being aware of the grand challenges of 21st century we are facing in the United States and the whole world such as cancer diagnostics and therapy, agricultural and water sustainability, and affordable health care for more people, I worked tirelessly to foster innovative research projects in my lab to directly respond to these challenges with the immediate and long-term scientific, technology and societal impacts. The three closely related thrusts of my research are 1) Nano-Bio hybrid photonic devices, 2) Green microfluidic environmental sensors, and 3) Mobile digital health biochips. Due to the unique nature of my research in ECE department, I have been very active in reaching out to many Illinois colleagues from different disciplines including chemistry, physics, environmental science, agricultural and food engineering, molecular and cell biology. By participating in many campus-wide research alliances, I have contributed to a few center-scale federal grant applications and my research group has created many novel works through the multidisciplinary collaborations."
-From Professor Liu's faculty profile.
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