We are at a time of tremendous economic opportunities for the countries that invent, manufacture and export technologies addressing grand challenges associated with sustainability, healthcare and artificial intelligence. Artificial materials with high performance and new functionality are at the core of these new technologies. In many important realms of scientific breakthroughs, functionality critical to macroscopic behavior starts to manifest itself at the mesoscale, where heterogeneities (e.g., interfaces, irregularities and nonequilibrium structures) are the norm. Understanding complex mesoscale phenomena offers the critical missing link between the microscopic and macroscopic worlds.
The goal of the Mao group is to engineer mesoscale functional heterogeneities in artificial materials. We design high-performance materials based on insights from operando functional imaging tools that elucidate the functional roles of mesostructures and their relations to atomic/molecular information and macroscopic properties. Currently, we are particularly interested in charge-functional organic/inorganic hybrid materials, which are key components in frontier technologies underpinning societal needs, ranging from energy storage/conversion and water treatment, to wearable/implantable (opto)electronics and neuromorphic computing. Emerging hybrid materials exhibit daunting mesoscale structural and functional heterogeneities. Fundamental processes (e.g., charge transport, catalysis) must work cooperatively across multiple length scales to realize desired properties. Mastering the mesoscale enables an ultimate multiscale understanding of the structure-function relationship in artificial materials, and is essential for the established atomic/molecular knowledge to blossom into technology opportunities, societal benefits, and scientific advances.