Harnessing the "Rules of Life" to enable bio-inspired soft materials

Principal Investigators
Howard Stone (Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering)
Sujit Datta (Chemical and Biological Engineering)
Andrej Košmrlj (Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering)
Clifford Brangwynne (Chemical and Biological Engineering)
Bonnie Bassler (Molecular Biology)

Seed start and end dates: November 1, 2018 - October 31, 2019

An exploratory and promising research project based on a recent discovery — that polymers can regulate the structure and function of biological systems — is generating a new field of “living” soft matter. The researchers discovered that polymers can regulate the structure and function of biological materials, ranging from sub-cellular proteins to extracellular hydrogels to populations of cells, through entropic interactions. These results have generated a new field at the interface of biology, physics, and chemistry whose findings will enable the control and design of novel materials. The project goals are to define the principles underlying structural transition in intra-, extra-, and multi-cellular systems and to use this knowledge to control and design novel bio-inspired soft materials.

The research team is composed of Clifford Brangwynne (CBE), Howard Stone (MAE) and Andrej Košmrlj (MAE) who will focus on confined polymer dynamics and phase transitions. Other team members include Bonnie Bassler, (MolBio) and Sujit Datta (CBE) who will investigate structural transitions in biological and bio-inspired polymer liquids and polymer networks using experiments, theory, and simulations.


  • H. J. Cho and S. S. Datta, “Scaling law for cracking in shrinkable granular packings,” Phys. Rev. Lett. 123, 158004 (2019). DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.123.158004 

  • H. J. Cho, N. B. Lu, M. P. Howard, R. A. Adams, and S. S. Datta, “Crack formation and self-closing in shrinkable, granular packings,” Soft Matter 15, 4689 (2019). 10.1039/C9SM00731H

  • T. Bhattacharjee and S.S. Datta, “Confinement and activity regulate bacterial motion in porous media,” Soft Matter 15, 9920 (2019). DOI: 10.1039/C9SM01735F