We have broad research interests in solar energy conversion, bioanalytical chemistry and materials chemistry, which, amazingly, are tied together by a single type of species - lipids. Since lipids are amphiphilic molecules (bearing both hydrophilic and hydrophobic groups on the same molecule), they can self-assemble or be directed to assemble into various interesting nanostructures with distinct size, shape and geometry. In our lab, we spend a lot of time designing and controlling these lipid-based molecular assemblies. To probe these structures, we quite often rely on tools based on electrochemistry and fluorescence.

(1) Bioanalytical systems enabled by lipid nanoassemblies

One of our long-term research goals is to develop lipid assembled analytical systems for sensitive and selective biorecognition and detection. We believe this is a research area of great potential because of natural occurrence of lipids in many biological systems and the fascinating surface, interfacial and mechanical characteristics of lipid molecular assemblies. While it seems increasingly easy to achieve high-sensitivity detection nowadays, it remains difficult to do it cheaply and reliably. Another issue to consider is the stability (or, shelf life, in a more practical sense) of these bioanalytical systems.

To address these issues, a current focus in the lab has been on various electrode-supported lipid nanostructures, which we have successfully used to immobilize, scaffold and interact with biomolecules of significant medical and clinical importance.

(2) Lipid-based photoconversion systems

More than 80% of energy that is enabling our current lifestyle comes from fossil fuels, which are not only finite but can potentially trigger disastrous climate fluctuations. Solar energy can potentially cut our dependence on fossil fuels but current technologies suffer from high cost and low efficiency. To fully tap its potential, significant advancements both in fundamental understanding and technological innovation are needed in capture and storage of solar energy. Our approach to this complex problem is to use natural materials such as lipids to mimic natural photosynthesis - a truly sustainable system that is proven to work at the grandest scale for hundreds of millions of years. On the fundamental level, we're building photoconverting cells that contain only one or a few molecular layers of photoactive agents. With this approach, fundamental parameters governing the photoconverting performance can be systematically studied and optimized. Conventional monolayer-based photoconversion systems typically rely on the covalent linkage of thiol- or silane-functionalized photoactive conjugates on electrodes, which often require nontrivial synthesis in organic media. By contrast, our approach takes advantage of the versatile assembly of phospholipids in water and potentially provides an alternative approach to modular photoelectrochemical cell design.

We're currently working on alternative photoconversion schemes using several molecular assembling strategies. To bring photoactivity into our systems, we have our hands on both natural (such as chlorophylls and carotenes) and synthetic dye species. On the synthetic side, fullerenes have been frequently included in building artificial photoconversion systems owing to their excellent photochemical properties, including their narrow HOMO-LUMO gap, long-lived photoinduced charge separation and low reorganization energy associated with the electron/energy transfer. Besides fullerenes, we’re also interested in integrating other novel photoactive agents, such as ruthenium tris(bipyridyl) complexes and porphyrins, into these molecular assemblies. Similar successes we’ve had so far clearly points to the generality and modularity of our assembling-based approach.

(3) Lipids material chemistry

Our current research in materials chemistry focuses on lipid-assembled matrices and materials for biosensing and solar energy conversion. As a family of natural biomaterial, lipids can be either directly extracted from natural sources or synthesized from widely available starting materials. More importantly, lipids combine several appealing characteristics that make them ideal building blocks in constructing integrated chemical systems. For example, they are used by Nature to form cell membranes of all organisms, hosting molecular machineries including numerous cell receptors and photosynthesis system complexes. In addition, lipids can form stable microscopic colloid particles, such as liposomes, in solution and bilayer structure on solid support surfaces. This diverse assembling chemistry offers many opportunities for integration and thus increases the overall functionality of the system.

More details on the lastest development in these areas can be found in our recent publications.


28. Li, C.; Wang, M.; Ferguson, M.; Zhan, W. “Phospholipid/Aromatic Thiol Hybrid Bilayers.” Langmuir, 2015, 5228-5234.

27. Liu, L. et al. “Effects of Oriented Surface Dipole on Photoconversion Efficiency in an Alkane/Lipid-Hybrid-Bilayer-Based Photovoltaic Model System.” ChemPhysChem, 2013, 2777-2785.

26. Liu, L.; Zhan, W. “Molecular Photovoltaic System Based on Fullerenes and Carotenoids Co-Assembled in Lipid/Alkanethiol Hybrid Bilayers.” Langmuir, 2012, 4877-4882.

25. Xie, H.; Jiang, K.; Zhan, W. “A Modular Molecular Photovoltaic System Based on Phospholipid/Alkanethiol Hybrid Bilayers: Photocurrent Generation and Modulation.” Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys., 2011, 17712-17721.

24. Song, N.; Zhu, H.; Jin, S.; Zhan, W.; Lian, T. “Poisson-Distributed Electron-Transfer Dynamics from Single Quantum Dots to C60 Molecules.” ACS Nano, 2011, 613-621.

23. Zhan et al. “Photocurrent Generation from Porphyrin/Fullerene Complexes Assembled in a Tethered Lipid Bilayer.” Langmuir, 2010, 15671-15679.

22. Jiang, K.; Xie, H.; Zhan, W. “Photocurrent Generation from Ru(bpy)32+ Immobilized on Phospholipid/Alkanethiol Hybrid Bilayers.” Langmuir, 2009, 11129-11136.

21. Zhan, W.; Jiang, K. “A Modular Photocurrent Generation System Based on Phospholipid-Assembled Fullerenes.”Langmuir, 2008, 13258-13261.

20. Yu, Y.; Zhan, W.; Albrecht-Schmitt, T. E. “[H2bipy]2[(UO2)6Zn2(PO3OH)4(PO4)4]·H2O: An Open-Framework Uranyl Zinc Phosphate Templated by Diprotonated 4,4´-bipyridyl.” Inorg. Chem., 2008, 9050-9054.

19. Alsobrook, A. N.; Zhan, W.; Albrecht-Schmitt, T. E. “On the Use of Bifunctional Phosphonates for the Preparation of Heterobimetallic 5f-3d Systems.” Inorg. Chem., 2008, 5177-5183.

18. Nelson, A. G. D.; Bray, T. H.; Zhan, W.; Albrecht-Schmitt, T. E. “Further Examples of the Failure of Surrogates to Properly Model the Structural and Hydrothermal Chemistry of Transuranium Elements: Insights Provided by Uranium and Neptunium Diphosphonates.” Inorg. Chem., 2008, 4945-4951.

17. Jiang, K.; Zhang, H.; Shannon, C.; Zhan, W. “Preparation and Characterization of Polyoxometalate/ Protein Ultrathin Films Grown on Electrode Surfaces Using Layer-by-Layer Assembly.”Langmuir, 2008, 3584-3589.

16. Yu, Y.; Zhan, W.; Albrecht-Schmitt, T. E. “One- and Two-Dimensional Silver and Zinc Uranyl Phosphates Containing Bipyridyl Ligands.” Inorg. Chem., 2007, 10214-10220.

15. Zhan, D.; Li, X.; Zhan, W.; Fan, F.-R. F.; Bard, A. J. “Scanning Electrochemical Microscopy. 58. The Application of a Micropipette-Supported ITIES Tip to Detect Ag+ and Study Its Effect on Fibroblast Cells.” Anal. Chem. 2007, 5225-5231.

14. Zhan, W.; Bard, A. J. “Electrogenerated Chemiluminescence. 83. Immunoassay of Human C-Reactive Protein (CRP) by Using Ru(bpy)32+ Encapsulated Liposomes as Labels.”Anal. Chem., 2007, 459-463.

13. Bard, A. J.; Li, X.; Zhan, W. “Chemically Imaging Living Cells by Scanning Electrochemical Microscopy.” Biosens. Bioelect. 2006, 461-472.

12. Zhan, W.; Bard, A. J. “Scanning Electrochemical Microscopy. 56. Probing Outside and Inside Single Giant Liposomes Containing Ru(bpy)32+.”Anal. Chem., 2006, 726-733.

11. Zhan, W.; Crooks, R. M. “Microelectrochemical Logic Circuits.”J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2003, 9934-9935. (Highlighted by Chemical & Engineering News, Sep. 1 2003, Nature Materials Sep. 2003 and Analytical Chemistry Oct. 1 2003)

10. Zhan, W.; Alvarez, J.; Sun, L.; Crooks, R. M. “A Multichannel Microfluidic Sensor that Detects Anodic Redox Reactions Indirectly Using Anodic Electrogenerated Chemiluminescence.” Anal. Chem., 2003, 1233-1238.

9. Zhan, W.; Alvarez, J.; Crooks, R. M. “A Two-Channel Microfluidic Sensor that Uses Anodic Electrogenerated Chemiluminescence as a Photonic Reporter of Cathodic Redox Reactions.” Anal. Chem., 2003, 313-318.

8. Zhan, W.; Alvarez, J.; Crooks, R. M. “Electrochemical Sensing in Microfluidic Systems Using Electrogenerated Chemiluminescence as a Photonic Reporter of Electroactive Species.” J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2002, 13265-13270.

7. Zhan, W.; Seong, G. H.; Crooks, R. M. “Hydrogel-Based Microreactors as a Functional Component of Microfluidic Systems.” Anal. Chem., 2002, 4647-4652.

6. Seong, G. H.; Zhan, W.; Crooks, R. M. “Fabrication of Microchambers Defined by Photopolymerized Hydrogels and Weirs within Microfluidic Systems: Application to DNA Hybridization.” Anal. Chem., 2002, 3372-3377.

5. Zhan, W.; Wang, T.; Li, S. F. Y. “Derivatization, Extraction and Concentration of Amino Acids and Peptides by Using Organic/Aqueous Phases in Capillary Electrophoresis with Fluorescence Detection.” Electrophoresis, 2000, 3593-3599.

4. Zhan, W.; Xu, Y.; Li, A.; Zhang, J.; Schramm, K. M.; Kettrup, A. “Endocrine Disruption by Hexachlorobenzene in Crucian Carp (Carassius auratus gibelio).” B. Environ. Contam. Tox., 2000, 560-566.

3. Zhan, W.; Wang, T.; Li, S. F. Y. “Coupling of Solvent Semimicroextraction with Capillary Electrophoresis Using Ethyl Acetate as Sample Matrix.” Electrophoresis, 2000, 573-578.

2. Zhang, D. N.; Zhou, Z. P.; Tang, Y. Z.; Wu, C. Y.; Zhan, W.; Xu, Y. “Analysis of Organchlorine Compounds in Water by Solid Phase Microextraction and Gas Chromatography.” Chinese J. Anal. Chem., 1999, 768-772.

1. Zhang, D. N.; Zhou, Z. P.; Tang, Y. Z.; Wu, C. Y.; Zhan, W.; Xu, Y. “Sol-gel method for the preparation of solid-phase microextraction fibers.”Anal. Lett., 1999, 1675-1681.

Group Members

Prof. Wei Zhan

Thanks for your visit!

I came to Auburn from Texas, where I spent six years getting my Ph.D. and postdoctoral training. Before that, I grew up in a mid-size city in China and made up my mind early to become a chemist under the positive influence of my high-school chemistry teacher. Chemistry aside, I enjoy sports, music and reading.

Mingming Wang

Fourth-year graduate student.

Research interests: Artificial photosynthesis and lipid assemblies.

Chao Li

Third-year graduate student.

Research interests: Photoelectrochemistry and biodetection using lipid assemblies.

Md. Shamim Ibqal

Second-year graduate student.

Research interests: Lipids bioanalytical chemistry.

Qi Cui

Second-year graduate student.

Research interests: Photoelectrochemistry and biodetection using lipid assemblies.

Zening Liu

First-year graduate student.

Research interests: We'll see pretty soon.

Former group members

(1) Dr. Kai Jiang

Postdoctoral researcher '07-'10, Current employment: Professor, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, China

(2) Dr. Chengguo Hu

Visiting Scholar '10-'11, Current employment: Associate Professor, Wuhan University, Wuhan, China

(3) Dr. Hong Wang

Postdoctoral researcher '11-'12, Current employment: Postdoctoral researcher, Texas A&M

(4) Dr. Hong Xie

Ph.D. candidate '07-'12

(5) Dr. Lixia Liu

Ph.D. candidate '08-'13

(6) Brad Young

Undergraduate researcher '10-'12, Currently at: Medical school, UAB

(7)Alex Manning (undergrad)

Undergraduate researcher '11-'13, QC Chemist, Qualitest Pharmaceuticals.

(8)Matt Ferguson (undergrad)

Undergraduate researcher '12-'14, Current position unknown.

(9)Lindsey Schapker (undergrad)

Undergraduate researcher '13-'14, Current position unknown.


While research in Zhan lab is as active as ever, our quest for external funding support continues.

Positions available

Positions for undergraduate and postdoctoral researchers are available from time to time. Those interested may contact Dr. Zhan.