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Qian Chen makes matter come alive

With a sticky coating and other tricks, materials self-assemble in the lab

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11:07am, September 21, 2016
Qian Chen

Materials scientist Qian Chen explores the boundary between living and nonliving matter by examining and manipulating materials in liquid environments. 

Qian Chen, 30
Materials scientist
University of Illinois

In a darkened room, bathed in the glow of green light, materials scientist Qian Chen watches gold nanorods dance. They wiggle across a computer screen displaying real-time video from a gigantic microscope — a tall, beige tube about as wide as a telephone pole.

Chen has observed these and other minuscule specks of matter swimming, bumping into one another and sometimes organizing into orderly structures, just like molecules in cells do. By pioneering the design of new biologically inspired materials, she’s exploring what it means to be “alive.” Next, Chen wants to get an up

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