The Faculty


Probing the molecular-nano interface between biological and semiconductor systems, with emphasis on novel material synthesis and device concept


Born Xi’an, Shaanxi, China, 1980.
Fudan University, Shanghai, China, B.S. 2001, M.S. 2004.
Harvard University, A.M. 2007, Ph.D. 2010.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Children’s Hospital Boston, postdoctoral scholar, 2010-2012.
University of Chicago, Assistant Professor, July 2012 - current.


2013, Searle Scholars Award

2013, National Science Foundation CAREER Award

2012, TR35 honoree, MIT Technology Review

2011, IUPAC Prize for Young Chemists

2010, Third Place in National Collegiate Inventors Competition

2009, Dudley R. Herschbach Teaching Award, Harvard University

2009, ACS Division of Inorganic Chemistry Young Investigator Award

2008, MRS Graduate Student Award

Research Interests

The Tian group is dedicated to an interdisciplinary view of science, taking inspiration from a variety of fields, including physical chemistry, materials science, chemical biology, biophysics, and engineering. The Tian group is interested in probing the molecular-nano interface between biological and semiconductor systems, placing an emphasis on novel material synthesis and device concept. This interest is focused around three primary goals:

(1) Synthetic Cellular Interactions:
Our group is interested in both imitating cellular behavior using semiconductor nanomaterials and the augmentation of existing biological systems with semiconductor components. We hope to stably incorporate inorganic materials into the pre-existing cellular frameworks, examining both how single cells interact with these new artificial components, and what uniquely inorganic properties (e.g., electrical and optoelectronic responses, bioorthogonality) we can exploit to derive a more nuanced control over these cellular systems. There are several motivations for pursuing this type of research. First, it has been shown that the extracellular environment can have a significant impact on cell morphogenesis and on the initiation of cellular signaling processes. We hope that by incorporating semiconductor nanomaterials into this environment we can use the physical properties of these materials to influence cell morphogenesis and motility. Additionally, we are interested in examining how cellular systems will adapt to nonliving semiconductor nanomaterials, both intra- and extracellularly. Cells communicate via a variety of methods, including biochemical and biophysical signaling. We hope to either artificially mimic or assist in these types of cellular behavior by incorporating semiconductor frameworks, elucidating these forms of cellular responses. Recognizing how cells incorporate or exclude these types of semiconductor frameworks will help us further understand the fundamental limits in the biophysical signal transductions between biological and synthetic systems, and could lead to innovative therapeutic pathways.

(2) Nanoelectronic Exploration of Cellular Systems:
The ability to monitor the electrophysiology of living cells in real time with good spatiotemporal resolution is crucial for advancing our knowledge of cellular signaling pathways. However, minimally invasive intracellular or intercellular recordings, have been difficult to obtain as traditional techniques use probes that are too large to leave the cell membrane intact or to allow for satisfactory spatiotemporal resolution. Similarly, the rigidity of many of these devices prevents them from easily interfacing with soft biological systems. Our group is interested in developing original solutions to overcome these obstacles, allowing for improved intracellular or intercellular recordings.

(3) Development of Biomimetic Nanoscale Materials and Devices:
Nature routinely uses proteins to design complex three dimensional structures at nanometer scales with great precision. While traditional organic synthesis methods have yielded excellent specificity in chemical products, these are typically limited to molecular length scales and the difficulty of synthesizing these products increases exponentially with size and functional composition. However, as inorganic nanomaterial synthesis methods improve, scientists and engineers are able to utilize these techniques for designing novel nanoscale systems of length scales comparable to natural systems, allowing for unique interactions. Additionally, biological systems are capable of a large degree of morphological and synthetic control, achieving these transformations under relatively benign conditions. We are interested in probing these types of systems, utilizing naturally inspired processes for semiconductor material synthesis. Finally, biological systems exhibit many unique properties not commonly observed in semiconductor materials such as homeostatic regulation and environmental adaptability. We are interested in exploring analogs to these types of behaviors in semiconductor systems, and examining how these insights can be applied towards new material and device designs for applications in regenerative medicine.

Selected Publications

(1)     B. Z. Tian, J. Liu, T. Dvir, L. H. Jin, J. H. Tsui, Q. Qing, Z. G. Suo, R. Langer, D. S. Kohane and C. M. Lieber, Macroporous nanowire nanoelectronic scaffolds for synthetic tissues, Nature Mater., 2012, 11, 986-994.

(2)     B. Z. Tian, T. Cohen-Karni, Q. Qing, X. J. Duan, P. Xie and C. M. Lieber, Three-dimensional, flexible nanoscale field-effect transistors as localized bioprobes, Science, 2010, 329, 830-834.

(3)     B. Z. Tian, P. Xie, T. J. Kempa, D.C. Bell and C. M. Lieber, Single crystalline kinked semiconductor nanowire superstructures, Nature Nanotechnol., 2009, 4, 824-829.

(4)  B. Z. Tian, X. L. Zheng, T. J. Kempa, Y. Fang, N.F. Yu, G.H. Yu, J.L. Huang and C.M. Lieber, Coaxial silicon nanowires as solar cells and nanoelectronic power sources, Nature, 2007, 449, 885-888.

(5)  B. Z. Tian, X. Y. Liu, B. Tu, C. Z. Yu, J. Fan, L. M. Wang, S. H. Xie, G. D. Stucky and D. Y. Zhao, Self-adjusted synthesis of ordered stable mesoporous minerals by acid-base pairs, Nature Mater., 2003, 2, 159-163.