Prof. Qian Chen (CV)

Assistant Professor, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Department of Chemistry (Affiliated), Materials Research Laboratory (Affiliated)

Prof. Chen received her BS in Chemistry from Peking University (China, 2007), and her PhD in Materials Science and Engineering from UIUC with Prof. Steve Granick (2012). She then won the prestigious Miller fellowship at UC Berkeley and worked with Prof. Paul Alivisatos on in situ TEM related energy studies and bio-imaging. She is an assistant professor of MatSE and Chemistry (affiliated) at UIUC since 2015.


interaction map of nanorods
3D construction of a gold-DNA nanoconjugate
an isostatic kagome lattice


We focus on the new paradigm of building, mesoscopic imaging, and understanding active soft matter, the artificial materials analogue of smart living systems. Although materials components involved (polymers, nanocrystals, colloids) are mesoscopic and physically diverse, they are unified by features of hierarchy and strong non-covalent interactions among building blocks. As such, they are amenable to similar design rules which generate new solutions to a variety of applications in energy conversion, tandem catalysis, capsulation and targeted delivery, and bio-sensing. The common goal is to emulate Nature intelligence, for example, to make artificial materials self-replicating, self-regenerating, and eventually “evolvable”. (read more)


  News (more here)

December, 2018: Dr. Shan Zhou joined our group. Welcome!

Nov, 2018: Our paper on the colloidal metal-organic framework hexapods with enhanced catalytic activity and rollable packing got accepted by ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces! Congratulations to the group!

September, 2018: Chang passed the qualifying exam of MatSE. Congratulations to Chang for becoming a Ph.D. candidate!

September, 2018: Dr. Hyosung An joined our group. Welcome!

August, 2018: Prof. Chen gave an invited talk at the 256th ACS meeting symposium on “Advances in Colloid & Surface Chemistry Enabled by Cryogenic & In Situ Liquid‐cell Electron Microscopy.” Thank Prof. Matt Jones and Dr. Nathan Burrows for the invitation!

August, 2018: Johnny Smith, who just finished his second year PhD in our group, got the prestigious 3M graduate student fellowship! Congratulations to Johnny!

June, 2018: Prof. Chen is awarded with a Unilever Award by Division of Colloid and Surface Science, American Chemical Society and presented an invited plenary talk in the 92nd ACS Colloid & Surface Science Symposium. Thanks to Unilever and ACS for the recognition!

June, 2018: Prof. Chen gave an invited talk at the Noble Metal Nanoparticle Gordon Research Conference. Thank Prof. Stephan Link for the invitation!

May, 2018: Our paper on the reconfigurable polymer coating on shape-anisotropic gold nanoparticles got accepted by Macromolecular Rapid Communications! Congratulations to the group!

May, 2018: Prof. Chen gave an invited talk at the Applied Physical Sciences in University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Thank Prof. Rich Superfine for the invitation!

May, 2018: Our group received a Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP) Award. Thanks to AFOSR for the support!

April, 2018: Prof. Chen gave two invited talks at the 2018 Spring MRS Meeting. Thank Prof./Dr. Hongyou Fan and Dr. Dongsheng Li for the invitation!

March, 2018: Prof. Chen gave an invited talk at the Department of Materials Science and Nanoengineering of Rice University. Thank Prof. Jun Lou for the invitation!

March, 2018: Binbin Luo, 3rd-year PhD student in our group, won the MatSE Spring 2018 Travel Award. Congratulations, Binbin!

February, 2018: Prof. Chen is named Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow, Featured in New York Times. Read the news highlight here @ ILLINOIS NEWS BUREAU.

December, 2017: Our group received the NSF CAREER award on “Imaging and Understanding the Kinetic Pathways in Shape-Anisotropic Nanoparticle Self-Assembly”. Thank NSF for the support!

October, 2017: We got awarded with the ACS Petroleum Research Fund. Great thanks to ACS for the precious support!

September, 2017: Prof. Chen gave an invited talk in the Department of Chemistry at Ohio State University. Great thanks to Prof. Robert Baker for the invitation and hosting!

September, 2017: Dr. Wenxiang Chen and first-year MatSE PhD student Chang Liu joined our group. Welcome!

August, 2017: Our paper on liquid-phase TEM imaging of how multi-valent nanoparticles polymerize got accepted by Nature Communications! Congratulations to the group! Read the news highlight here @ ILLINOIS NEWS BUREAU.

August, 2017: Prof. Chen gave an invited talk in the “Responsive, Programmable Assembly of Active Colloids for Functional Materials” symposium at the 254th ACS National Meeting at Washington. Great thanks to Profs. Rob Hickey and Lauren Zarzar for the invitation and hosting!

July, 2017: Prof. Chen gave an invited talk at the topical workshop on “Active Matter at the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences” held at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Great thanks to Dr. Miguel Fuentes-Cabrera for the invitation!

July, 2017: The Chen group shared some “squishy soft materials” fun with students from Chicago Public Schools, in collaboration with the ICANEXSEL (Illinois-ChiS&E Alliance for Nurturing Excellence in STEM Education and Leadership) outreach program.

July, 2017: Our paper on the polymerization-like co-assembly of nanoplates and patchy colloids got accepted by ACS Nano! Congratulations to the group!

July, 2017: Prof. Chen gave talks as a keynote speaker in UK Colloids 2017, an invited speaker at the New Frontiers in Colloid Science workshop at University of Birmingham, and a keynote speaker at the 10th liquid matter conference in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Great thanks to Dr. Dwaipayan Chakrabarti (Birmingham), Prof. Stefano Sacanna (NYU), Prof. Vinny Manoharan (Harvard), Prof. Roel Dullens (Oxford) for the invitations.

June, 2017: Valerie Kovach, the Science Teacher in Albuquerque High School in New Mexio, joined our group for summer research through the nano@illinois RET program. Welcome, Valerie!

June, 2017: Zihao, Binbin, Johnny, Ahyoung and Brian (junior MatSE undergraduate) presented at 2017 Midwest Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics Conference (MTSM) held at University of Notre Dame.

June, 2017: Johnny and Ahyoung passed their qualifying exams. Congratulations on becoming PhD candidates!

April, 2017: Our paper on the geometric packing of beveled prisms got accepted by Nano Letters! Congratulations to the group!

April, 2017: Our review on seeing is believing for nanoparticle self-assembly dynamics got accepted by Accounts of Chemical Research! Congratulations to the group!


Join us!

We have openings for PhD student, undergrads and postdocs with background in TEM, nanoscience or biology. Interested candidates can send your CV to Dr. Chen at