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.


The runner-up of Science & PINS Prize for neuromodulation  2019

ETH Materials Research Prize for Young Investigators  2017

Chemical & Engineering News' "Talented Twelve"  2017

NIH New Innovator Award  2016

ONR Young Investigator Award  2016

Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE)  2016

Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship  2016

AFOSR Young Investigator Program Award  2015

Searle Scholars Award  2013

National Science Foundation CAREER Award  2013

TR35 honoree, MIT Technology Review  2012

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

B. Z. Tian, Nongenetic neural control with light, Science, 2019, 265, 457.

H. Acaron Ledesma, X. Li, J. L. Carvalho-de-Souza, W. Fei, F, Benzanilla, B. Z. Tian, An atlas of nano-enabled neural interfaces. Nature Nanotechnology, 2019, 14, 645-657.

Y. W. Jiang, R. Parameswaran, X. Li, J, L, Carvalho-de-Souza, X. Gao, L. Meng, F. Benzanilla, G. M. G. Shepherd, B. Z. Tian, Nongenetic optical neuromodulation with silicon-based materials. Nature Protocols, 2019, 14, 1339-1376.

Y. W. Jiang, X. J. Li, B. Liu, J. Yi, Y. Fang, F. Y. Shi, X. Gao, E. Sudzilovsky,R. Parameswaran, K. Koehler, V. Nair, J. P. Yue, K. H. Guo, Y. Fang, H.-M. Tsai, G.Freyermuth, R. C. S. Wong, C.-M. Kao, C.-T. Chen, A. W. Nicholls, X. Y. Wu, G. M. G. Shepherd, B. Z. Tian, Rational design of silicon structures for optically-controlled multiscale biointerfaces, Nature Biomedical Engineering, 2018, 2, 508-521.

R. Parameswaran, J. L. Carvalho-de-Souza, Y. W. Jiang, M. Burke, J. F. Zimmerman, K. Koehler, A. Phillips, J. Yi, E. Adams, F. Bezanilla, B. Z. Tian, Photoelectrochemical modulation of neuronal activity with free-standing coaxial silicon nanowires, Nature Nanotechnology, 2018, 13, 260-266.

Y. Fang, Y. W. Jiang, M. J. Cherukara, F. Y. Shi, K. Koehler, G. Freyermuth, D. Isheim, B. Narayanan, A. W. Nicholls, D. N. Seidman, S. K. R. S. Sankaranarayanan, B. Z. Tian, Alloy-assisted deposition of three-dimensional arrays of atomic gold catalyst for crystal growth studies, Nature Communications, 2017, 8, article number: 2014.

J. Yi, Y. C. Wang, Y. W. Jiang, I.-W. Jung, W. J. Liu, V. De Andrade, R. Q. Xu, R. Parameswaran, I. R. Peters, R. Divan, X. H. Xiao, T. Sun, Y. Lee, W.-I. Park, B. Z. Tian, 3D calcite heterostructures for dynamic and deformable mineralized matrices,Nature Communications, 2017, 8, article number: 509.

J. F. Zimmerman, R. Parameswaran, G. Murray, Y. C. Wang, M. Burke, B. Z. Tian, Cellular uptake and dynamics of unlabeled free standing silicon nanowires, Science Advances, 2016, 2, e16010139.

Y. W. Jiang, J. L. Carvalho-de-Souza, R. C. S. Wong, Z. Q. Luo, D. Isheim, X. B. Zuo, A. W. Nicholls, I. W. Jung, J. P. Yue, D.-J. Liu, Y. C. Wang, V. De Andrade, X. H. Xiao, L. Navrazhnykh, D. E. Weiss, X. Y. Wu, D. N. Seidman, F. Bezanilla, B. Z. Tian , Heterogeneous silicon mesostructures for lipid-supported bioelectric interfaces,Nature Materials, 2016, 15, 1023–1030.

Z. Q. Luo, Y. W. Jiang, B. D. Myers, D. Isheim, J. S. Wu, J. F. Zimmerman, Z. A. Wang, Q. Q. Li, Y. C. Wang, X. Q. Chen, V. P. Dravid, D. N. Seidman and B. Z. Tian, Atomic gold-enabled three-dimensional lithography for silicon mesostructures, Science, 2015, 348, 1451-1455.

V. P. Dravid, D. N. Seidman and B. Z. Tian, Atomic gold-enabled three-dimensional lithography for silicon mesostructures, Science, 2015, 348, 1451-1455.