Our approach to chemistry is quite simple: we set up the stage (some chemical systems) and watch the actors we've invited (chemical building blocks) to play the drama out. Oftentimes the stage is set via some type of surfaces or interfaces, and our actors, lipids. Lipids in our opinion bear all of what make a great actor: fundamental, versatile and reliable, the Tom Hanks in the chemical world. They are wonderful team players, often packing themselves into giant armies with sizes hundreds of thousands times bigger than individual participants. And, they do so with style, producing an amazing variety of structures and geometries with delicacy and elegance. Being faithful watchers of their shows for close to two decades now, we've come to appreciate many a character in these lipid assemblies. But they never cease to surprise and impress - particularly when we play mischiefs by tipping them off balance in some fashion. You see - we're more than passive spectaters: by constantly challenging our actors, we also chance to pull a Kubrick once in a while.

In Theater (Lab) Now

(1) Lipid nanomaterials, their assembly and novel functions

So much is already understood about lipid bilayers, the most common type of lipid aggregate formation. In our lab, we've used these wonderful lipid assemblies to mimic photosynthetic processes (see article No. 30 in our Publications). In these studies, we mainly took advantage of their well-defined hydrophobic/hydrophilic interfaces and compartments, thinness (i.e., 3-5 nm) and good stability. From these studies, we're thoroughly convinced of the untapped opportunities for discovering novel lipid assemblies. The appeal of this research lies in the possibility to control the morphology, mechanical properties and stability of these assemblies through structural design of the starting lipid materials.

(2) Soft patchy particles

Much research has been devoted lately to micro- and nanoparticles carrying broken symmetry and heterogeneous surface chemistry, i.e., patchy particles, whose structural complexity and high information content offer exciting new opportunities for creative design of functional materials. Janus particles, with two opposing halves of distinct makeup/ functionality, represent the simplest patchy particle system and thus a natural place to start an investigation. In our lab, we're building all-lipid Janus particles using fundamental biophysical principles. For example, by taking advantage of lipid mismatch and immiscibility within the same lipid matrix, we developed phase-separated Janus liposomes that display asymmetrical, domain-specific bioaffinity binding in 2018 (see article No. 31 in our Publications). Adding charged lipids into the mix, we also demonstrated dipolar Janus liposomes (article No. 33), for the first time. More recently, we've been busy testing the exciting possibility to build micromotors with these asymmetrical lipid assemblies (Articles No. 37 and 38). Eventually, these new systems may find their usefulness as new targeted drug-delivery systems.

(3) Electroactive thin films, control and novel maneuvers

We love electrochemistry! Dr. Zhan, in particular, is an electrochemist by training. Electrochemistry is vast, spanning at least half a dozen major research fields. In this sea of electrochemistry, we're focused on fundamental physical/chemical/mechanical processes occurring at the electrode/water interfaces. In 2018, for example, we developed a facile and general scheme to electrochemically recruit charged polymers, such as polypeptides and nucleic acids, onto electrode surfaces (see article No. 32 in our Publications). Recently, the same electrochemical trigger was also found capable of inducing interfacial assembly of aqueous-suspended colloids. Such capabilities enable colloidal micropattern formation in a few seconds (article No. 34).


(Click on titles for PDFs)

38. Jin, H.; Cui, J.; Zhan, W. “Enzymatic Janus Liposome Micromotors.” Langmuir, 2023, 4198-4206.

37. Cui, J.; Jin, H.; Zhan, W. “Enzyme-Free Active Liposome Motion via Asymmetrical Lipid Efflux.” Langmuir, 2022, 11468-11477.

36. Cui, J.; Zhan, W. “Hidden Beauty, Assembling Lipids: Modular Hands-On Outreach Experiments Showcasing Lipid Assembly Chemistry.” J. Chem. Edu., 2022, 1087-1094.

35. Liu, Z.; Cui, J.; Zhan, W. “Rapid Access to Giant Unilamellar Liposomes with Upper Size Control: Membrane-Gated, Gel-Assisted Lipid Hydration.” Langmuir, 2020, 13193−13200.

34. Iqbal, Md. S.; Zhan, W. “Electrochemically Triggered Interfacial Deposition/Assembly of Aqueous-Suspended Colloids.” ChemElectroChem, 2020, 1097−1106.

33. Liu, Z.; Cui, J.; Zhan, W. “Dipolar Janus Liposomes: Formation, Electrokinetic Motion and Self-Assembly.” Soft Matter, 2020, 2177−2184.

32. Iqbal, Md. S.; Zhan, W. “Electrochemically Triggered Surface Deposition of Polyelectrolytes.” Langmuir, 2018, 12776−12786.

31. Wang, M.; Liu, Z.; Zhan, W. “Janus Liposomes: Gel-Assisted Formation and Bioaffinity-Directed Clustering.” Langmuir, 2018, 7509−7518.

30. Wang, M.; Zhan, W. “Mimicking Photosynthesis with Electrode-Supported Lipid Nanoassemblies.” Acc. Chem. Res., 2016, 2551-2559.

29. Wang, M.; Chen, J.; Lian, T.; Zhan, W. “Mimicking Photosynthesis with Supercomplexed Lipid Nanoassemblies: Design, Performance, and Enhancement Role of Cholesterol.” Langmuir, 2016, 7326-7338.

28. Li, C.; Wang, M.; Ferguson, M.; Zhan, W. “Phospholipid/Aromatic Thiol Hybrid Bilayers.” Langmuir, 2015, 5228-5234.

27. Liu, L. et al. “Effects of Oriented Surface Dipole on Photoconversion Efficiency in an Alkane/Lipid-Hybrid-Bilayer-Based Photovoltaic Model System.” ChemPhysChem, 2013, 2777-2785.

26. Liu, L.; Zhan, W. “Molecular Photovoltaic System Based on Fullerenes and Carotenoids Co-Assembled in Lipid/Alkanethiol Hybrid Bilayers.” Langmuir, 2012, 4877-4882.

25. Xie, H.; Jiang, K.; Zhan, W. “A Modular Molecular Photovoltaic System Based on Phospholipid/Alkanethiol Hybrid Bilayers: Photocurrent Generation and Modulation.” Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys., 2011, 17712-17721.

24. Song, N.; Zhu, H.; Jin, S.; Zhan, W.; Lian, T. “Poisson-Distributed Electron-Transfer Dynamics from Single Quantum Dots to C60 Molecules.” ACS Nano, 2011, 613-621.

23. Zhan et al. “Photocurrent Generation from Porphyrin/Fullerene Complexes Assembled in a Tethered Lipid Bilayer.” Langmuir, 2010, 15671-15679.

22. Jiang, K.; Xie, H.; Zhan, W. “Photocurrent Generation from Ru(bpy)32+ Immobilized on Phospholipid/Alkanethiol Hybrid Bilayers.” Langmuir, 2009, 11129-11136.

21. Zhan, W.; Jiang, K. “A Modular Photocurrent Generation System Based on Phospholipid-Assembled Fullerenes.”Langmuir, 2008, 13258-13261.

20. Yu, Y.; Zhan, W.; Albrecht-Schmitt, T. E. “[H2bipy]2[(UO2)6Zn2(PO3OH)4(PO4)4]·H2O: An Open-Framework Uranyl Zinc Phosphate Templated by Diprotonated 4,4´-bipyridyl.” Inorg. Chem., 2008, 9050-9054.

19. Alsobrook, A. N.; Zhan, W.; Albrecht-Schmitt, T. E. “On the Use of Bifunctional Phosphonates for the Preparation of Heterobimetallic 5f-3d Systems.” Inorg. Chem., 2008, 5177-5183.

18. Nelson, A. G. D.; Bray, T. H.; Zhan, W.; Albrecht-Schmitt, T. E. “Further Examples of the Failure of Surrogates to Properly Model the Structural and Hydrothermal Chemistry of Transuranium Elements: Insights Provided by Uranium and Neptunium Diphosphonates.” Inorg. Chem., 2008, 4945-4951.

17. Jiang, K.; Zhang, H.; Shannon, C.; Zhan, W. “Preparation and Characterization of Polyoxometalate/ Protein Ultrathin Films Grown on Electrode Surfaces Using Layer-by-Layer Assembly.”Langmuir, 2008, 3584-3589.

16. Yu, Y.; Zhan, W.; Albrecht-Schmitt, T. E. “One- and Two-Dimensional Silver and Zinc Uranyl Phosphates Containing Bipyridyl Ligands.” Inorg. Chem., 2007, 10214-10220.

15. Zhan, D.; Li, X.; Zhan, W.; Fan, F.-R. F.; Bard, A. J. “Scanning Electrochemical Microscopy. 58. The Application of a Micropipette-Supported ITIES Tip to Detect Ag+ and Study Its Effect on Fibroblast Cells.” Anal. Chem. 2007, 5225-5231.

14. Zhan, W.; Bard, A. J. “Electrogenerated Chemiluminescence. 83. Immunoassay of Human C-Reactive Protein (CRP) by Using Ru(bpy)32+ Encapsulated Liposomes as Labels.”Anal. Chem., 2007, 459-463.

13. Bard, A. J.; Li, X.; Zhan, W. “Chemically Imaging Living Cells by Scanning Electrochemical Microscopy.” Biosens. Bioelect. 2006, 461-472.

12. Zhan, W.; Bard, A. J. “Scanning Electrochemical Microscopy. 56. Probing Outside and Inside Single Giant Liposomes Containing Ru(bpy)32+.”Anal. Chem., 2006, 726-733.

11. Zhan, W.; Crooks, R. M. “Microelectrochemical Logic Circuits.”J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2003, 9934-9935. (Highlighted by Chemical & Engineering News, Sep. 1 2003, Nature Materials Sep. 2003 and Analytical Chemistry Oct. 1 2003)

10. Zhan, W.; Alvarez, J.; Sun, L.; Crooks, R. M. “A Multichannel Microfluidic Sensor that Detects Anodic Redox Reactions Indirectly Using Anodic Electrogenerated Chemiluminescence.” Anal. Chem., 2003, 1233-1238.

9. Zhan, W.; Alvarez, J.; Crooks, R. M. “A Two-Channel Microfluidic Sensor that Uses Anodic Electrogenerated Chemiluminescence as a Photonic Reporter of Cathodic Redox Reactions.” Anal. Chem., 2003, 313-318.

8. Zhan, W.; Alvarez, J.; Crooks, R. M. “Electrochemical Sensing in Microfluidic Systems Using Electrogenerated Chemiluminescence as a Photonic Reporter of Electroactive Species.” J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2002, 13265-13270.

7. Zhan, W.; Seong, G. H.; Crooks, R. M. “Hydrogel-Based Microreactors as a Functional Component of Microfluidic Systems.” Anal. Chem., 2002, 4647-4652.

6. Seong, G. H.; Zhan, W.; Crooks, R. M. “Fabrication of Microchambers Defined by Photopolymerized Hydrogels and Weirs within Microfluidic Systems: Application to DNA Hybridization.” Anal. Chem., 2002, 3372-3377.

5. Zhan, W.; Wang, T.; Li, S. F. Y. “Derivatization, Extraction and Concentration of Amino Acids and Peptides by Using Organic/Aqueous Phases in Capillary Electrophoresis with Fluorescence Detection.” Electrophoresis, 2000, 3593-3599.

4. Zhan, W.; Xu, Y.; Li, A.; Zhang, J.; Schramm, K. M.; Kettrup, A. “Endocrine Disruption by Hexachlorobenzene in Crucian Carp (Carassius auratus gibelio).” B. Environ. Contam. Tox., 2000, 560-566.

3. Zhan, W.; Wang, T.; Li, S. F. Y. “Coupling of Solvent Semimicroextraction with Capillary Electrophoresis Using Ethyl Acetate as Sample Matrix.” Electrophoresis, 2000, 573-578.

2. Zhang, D. N.; Zhou, Z. P.; Tang, Y. Z.; Wu, C. Y.; Zhan, W.; Xu, Y. “Analysis of Organchlorine Compounds in Water by Solid Phase Microextraction and Gas Chromatography.” Chinese J. Anal. Chem., 1999, 768-772.

1. Zhang, D. N.; Zhou, Z. P.; Tang, Y. Z.; Wu, C. Y.; Zhan, W.; Xu, Y. “Sol-gel method for the preparation of solid-phase microextraction fibers.”Anal. Lett., 1999, 1675-1681.

Group Members

Prof. Wei Zhan

Thanks for your visit!

I came to Auburn from Texas, where I spent six years getting my Ph.D. and postdoctoral training. Before that, I grew up in a mid-size city in China and made up my mind early to become a chemist under the positive influence of my high-school chemistry teacher, Mrs. Chen. Chemistry aside, I enjoy sports, music and reading.

Skyler Chandler

Third-year graduate student.

Research interests: Janus liposomes, their assembly and motion.

Ayesha Akter

Second-year graduate student.

Research interests: Janus liposomes, their assembly and motion.

Research interests: Electrochemical sensors.

Former group members

(1) Dr. Kai Jiang

Postdoctoral researcher '07-'10, Current employment: Professor, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, China

(2) Dr. Chengguo Hu

Visiting Scholar '10-'11, Current employment: Professor, Wuhan University, Wuhan, China

(3) Dr. Hong Wang

Postdoctoral researcher '11-'12, Position after Auburn: Postdoctoral researcher, Texas A&M

(4) Dr. Hong Xie

Ph.D. August 2012

(5) Dr. Lixia Liu

Ph.D. August 2013

(6) Brad Young

Undergraduate researcher '10-'12, Position after graduation: Medical school, UAB

(7)Alex Manning (undergrad)

Undergraduate researcher '11-'13, Position after graduation: QC Chemist, Qualitest Pharmaceuticals.

(8)Matt Ferguson (undergrad)

Undergraduate researcher '12-'14, Position after graduation: Auburn University Medical School.

(9)Lindsey Schapker (undergrad)

Undergraduate researcher '13-'14.

(10) Chao Li

M.S. Nov. 2016

(11) Dr. Mingming Wang

Ph.D. Aug. 2017, Job after graduation: Alliance Pharma, Inc.

(12) Dr. Md. Shamim Ibqal

Ph.D. August 2020. Current position: Nektar Therapeutics

(13) Dr. Zening Liu

Ph.D. August 2020, Position after graduation: Postdoctoral Researcher, Oak Ridge National Lab.

(14) Laurelyn Ostrowidzki

Undergraduate researcher '21-'22,

(15) Dr. Hui Jin

Ph.D. May 2023, Position after graduation: Postdoctoral Scientist, Guangzhou Lab, Guangzhou, China.

(16) Dr. Jinyan Cui

Ph.D. May 2023, Position after graduation: Postdoctoral Researcher, Indiana University.


Our research is currently supported by the Macromolecular, Supramolecular and Nanochemistry (MSN) program at the National Science Foundation (CHE-2108243). We pledge our full commitment to this support to produce useful new knowledge potentially beneficial to the scientific community and our society.

Positions available

Researcher positions at undergraduate/graduate/postdoctoral levels are available from time to time. Those interested may contact Dr. Zhan.