My name is Liheng Cai. I am currently a postdoctoral fellow working in School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University, supervised by Prof. David A. Weitz. I received my Ph.D. in Materials Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2012, under the supervision of Prof. Michael Rubinstein. After that I spent one year as a postdoctoral researcher with Prof. Michael Rubinstein building a biophysical laboratory. Back to 2006, I obtained my B.S. in Physics with the highest honor from Lanzhou University, China.
I strike to do research of both scientific and practical value. My research interests are at the interface of soft matter, polymer physics and chemistry, and biology, integrating experiments, theory and engineering.
I am currently working on projects spanning from microfluidics, materials science, and biomedical research: (1) Droplet microfluidics for high throughput screening of antibody producing single B-cells; (2) Elastomers of extreme mechanical properties, either ultrasoft or exceptionally tough; (3) Biophysics and biochemistry of native biological gels.
Back to my Ph.D. study, I developed expertise in both theory and experimentation. I worked on an experimental project to answer a long-standing question: Why does the lung of healthy people stay functional even being exposed to numerous infectious particulates during breathing, but become infected for diseases? Our discovery enables a paradigm shift in understanding the airway innate defense mechanisms and forms the foundation for the development of novel therapeutic treatments to airway diseases. In parallel, I developed scaling theories to answer a fundamental question: How do nanoparticles move in polymeric matrices; examples include polymer solutions and melts, polymer networks, and gels. In addition, I helped develop the first systematic theory for self-healing polymeric materials, a type of smart materials that can restore their mechanical strength when two fractured surfaces are brought into contact.
My future research style will be focusing on experimentation, complemented by theory. My goal is to be an experimentalist who understands theory.