Hydrogels are a class of programmable and adaptable materials: they can sense and modulate physical signals (e.g., light, heat, humidity, and mechanical forces); meanwhile, they can be integrated with other matters (e.g., hydrophilic chemical species, bacterial cells, air pockets, and glass blocks). In our lab at MSU, we will use hydrogels to be a bridging interface between humans and buildings to simultaneously promote the occupant comfort and energy efficiency of buildings, and generate a meaningful feedback loop in between. There are opportunities for both improving the performance of system components (e.g., replacing the construction materials with green, self-healing materials) and improving the way they are controlled as part of integrated building systems (e.g., sensors that adjust light levels to occupancy and daylight). There are three research thrusts in our lab, including

  1. Living hydrogels and soft materials

  2. Hydrogel-based theranostics

  3. Hydrogels for water and heat management

Living hydrogels & SOFT materials

Engineered Living Hydrogels

3D printed living materials with a high resolution. To convert the benchtop technology to real-world applications, we adopted hydrogels as matrix materials for genetically engineered bacteria. The hydrogels ensured the viability, functionality, and safety of living bacteria. They were 3D-printed into large-scale (in centimeters), high-resolution (in microns) structures with precise control over spatiotemporal responses. Based on this fundamental principle, a few living devices, such as wearable or ingestible living sensors were fabricated as biosensor prototypes for various biomarkers.


  1. Xinyue Liu#, Tzu-Chieh Tang#, Eléonore Tham#, Hyunwoo Yuk#, Shaoting Lin, Timothy K Lu*, Xuanhe Zhao*, Stretchable living materials and devices with hydrogel–elastomer hybrids hosting programmed cells, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114 (9), 2200 (2017)

  2. Xinyue Liu#, Hyunwoo Yuk#, Shaoting Lin, German Alberto Parada, Tzu-Chieh Tang, Eléonore Tham, César de la Fuente, Timothy K. Lu, Xuanhe Zhao*, 3D printing of living responsive materials and devices, Advanced Materials, 30 (4), 1704821 (2017)

  3. Tzu-Chieh Tang#, Eleonore Tham#, Xinyue Liu#, Kevin Yehl, Alexis J. Rovner, Hyunwoo Yuk, Farren J. Isaacs, Xuanhe Zhao*, Timothy K. Lu*, Hydrogel-based biocontainment of bacteria for continuous sensing and computation, Nature Chemical Biology, 17 (6), 724 (2021)

  4. Xinyue Liu#, Yueying Yang#, Maria Eugenia Inda#, Shaoting Lin, Jingjing Wu, Yoonho Kim, Xiaoyu Chen, Dacheng Ma, Jianfeng Zang, Timothy K. Lu*, Xuanhe Zhao*, Magnetic-hydrogel living devices for intestinal localization, retention and diagnosis, Advanced Functional Materials, 31, 2010918 (2021)

  5. Xinyue Liu, Maria Eugenia Inda#, Yong Lai#, Timothy K. Lu, Xuanhe Zhao*, Engineered living hydrogels, Advanced Materials, (2022)

Anti-Fatigue Soft Materials

Fatigue-resistant soft materials that sustain repetitive stretches. Inspired by the architectures of the muscle and cartilage, we proposed the structural fundamental principles for soft materials with fatigue resistance. Implementation strategies include nanocrystals by thermal annealing and nanofibers by phase separation. We found that these polymer nanostructures can effectively pin the crack propagation in soft materials, with the fatigue threshold increased by two orders of magnitude.


  1. Shaoting Lin#, Ji Liu#, Xinyue Liu, Xuanhe Zhao*, Muscle-like fatigue-resistant hydrogels by mechanical training, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 116 (21), 10244 (2019)

  2. Ji Liu#, Shaoting Lin#, Xinyue Liu#, Zhao Qin#, Yueying Yang, Jianfeng Zang*, Xuanhe Zhao*, Fatigue-resistant adhesion of hydrogels, Nature Communications 11 (1), 1071 (2020)

  3. Xuanhe Zhao*, Xiaoyu Chen#, Hyunwoo Yuk#, Shaoting Lin#, Xinyue Liu, German Parada, Soft materials by design: unconventional polymer networks give extreme properties, Chemical Reviews 121 (8), 4309 (2021)

  4. Jiahua Ni, Shaoting Lin, Zhao Qin, David Veysset, Xinyue Liu, Yuchen Sun, Alex J. Hsieh, Raul Radovitzky, Keith A. Nelson, Xuanhe Zhao*, Strong fatigue-resistant nanofibrous hydrogels inspired by lobster underbelly, Matter 4 (6), 1919 (2021)

Hydrogel-based Theranostics

Ingestible Devices for GI Tract Monitoring

Self-deployable actuators that transform and retain in the GI tract. We designed an ingestible pill that, upon reaching the stomach, quickly swells to the size of a soft ping-pong ball big enough to stay in the stomach. The pill was embedded with a sensor that continuously tracks the stomach’s temperature for 30 days.


  1. Xinyue Liu#, Christoph Steiger#, Shaoting Lin#, Ji Liu, German A Parada, Joy Collins, Siid Tamang, Hon Fai Chan, Hyunwoo Yuk, Nhi Pham, Giovanni Traverso, Xuanhe Zhao*, Ingestible hydrogel device, Nature Communications, 10, 493 (2019)

  2. Xinyue Liu#, Yueying Yang#, Maria Eugenia Inda#, Shaoting Lin, Jingjing Wu, Yoonho Kim, Xiaoyu Chen, Dacheng Ma, Jianfeng Zang, Timothy K. Lu*, Xuanhe Zhao*, Magnetic-hydrogel living devices for intestinal localization, retention and diagnosis, Advanced Functional Materials, 31, 2010918 (2021)

  3. Xinyue Liu, Ji Liu, Shaoting Lin, Xuanhe Zhao*, Hydrogel machines, Materials Today 36, 102 (2020)

Implantable Optical Fibers for Light Delivery

Stretchable optical fibers that deliver light to nerves. We developed a light delivery strategy that facilitates light transmission to the unconstrained sciatic nerve along with persistent muscle stretching for four weeks. We fabricated fatigue-resistant hydrogel optical fibers. Besides the mechanical performance, hydrogel fibers with polymer nanocrystals exhibit high transparency and a high numerical aperture for efficient light transmission.


  1. Xinyue Liu#, Siyuan Rao#, Kayla Felix, Jiahua Ni, Atharva B. Sahasrabudhe, Shaoting Lin, Qianbin Wang, Polina Anikeeva, Xuanhe Zhao, Fatigue-resistant hydrogel fibers enable peripheral nerve optogenetics during locomotion, under revision

  2. Jingjing Guo, Xinyue Liu, Nan Jiang, Ali K Yetisen, Hyunwoo Yuk, Changxi Yang, Ali Khademhosseini, Xuanhe Zhao, Seok-Hyun Yun*, Highly stretchable, strain sensing hydrogel optical fibers, Advanced Materials, 28, 10244 (2016)


Hydrogels to Capture Atmospheric Water

Phase-change hydrogels that capture water from the air. We developed hydrogels that exhibit crystalline-amorphous structure transition and inverse temperature dependence of water sorption, enabling moisture capture at elevated temperatures to prevent dehydration and enlarge the tunability of water uptake.


  1. Xinyue Liu#, Lenan Zhang#, Bachir El Fil, Carlos D. Díaz-Marín, Yang Zhong, Xiangyu Li, Shaoting Lin, Evelyn N. Wang, Unusual temperature dependence of water sorption in semi-crystalline hydrogels, under revision

Sorbent Materials for Thermal Regulation

High water uptake and adsorption enthalpy of the hydrogel/salt composite. We developed a thermal energy storage device based on the adsorption of a hydrogel/salt composite, promising high energy densities over 200 kWh/m3, desorption at ≤ 70˚C and achieving building energy savings of ≥ 50 kWh/m3/day. We leveraged a unique hydrogel/salt composite in a high-performance architecture consisting of an integrated adsorbent bed and evaporator/condenser to maximize thermal storage capability and fast cycling.