Research

Today, humanity faces unprecedented challenges in the global distributions of energy, food, water, and healthcare. The mission of Dr. Zhang’s lab is to create an interdisciplinary and collaborative research environment to solve the grand challenges in personalized health monitoring, early diagnosis, and brain science. Dr. Zhang’s research focuses on three major fields: (I) Wearable electronics and machine learning; (II) Neuroelectronic interfaces; (III) CRISPR-based biosensors.

(1) Wearable electronics and machine learning. The outbreak of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) has infected more than 17 million individuals worldwide, resulting in the death of more than 669, 000 people as of July 2020. Based on the available data and published reports, most people diagnosed with COVID-19 exhibit no or mild symptoms and could be discharged home for self-isolation. About 20% of them will progress to severe disease requiring hospitalization and medical management. Currently, there is a lack of effective methods and technologies for healthcare providers to remotely monitor patients’ clinical conditions at home, evaluate their disease progression, and predict clinical deterioration for timely medical interventions. This multidisciplinary project aims to create a new route to improve the COVID-19 recovery outcome by providing an at-home smart monitoring system. This project will provide exciting interdisciplinary education and research opportunities, as well as hands-on experience, to train our graduate students and to involve undergraduate students, especially minority students, into research. A set of integrated research and education activities will be implemented for out-reaching to K-12 students and the public, to increase their awareness of advanced scientific and engineering solutions for addressing the critical healthcare challenges of COVID-19. Funding sources: NSF ECCS.

(2) Neuroelectronic interfaces. Diseases related to the central and peripheral nervous systems, such as depression, anxiety, addiction, pain, Alzheimer’s, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, affect the life quality of millions of people worldwide. To understand the function of neural networks and the causes of these mental health problems, we are developing emerging tools and technologies for neuroscience research. Our long-term goal is to develop advanced tools and approaches that support these capabilities for large-scale modulation and monitoring of the nervous system. We believe these neural probes will be of great interest to the neuroscience community for basic studies in neuroscience as well as for studies of disease-related processes in various contexts relevant to the BRAIN initiative. Funding sources: NIH Brain Initiative R01 and NIH NIDA R61/R33.

(3) CRISPR-based biosensors.  Bacterial pathogens and their toxins are the most common causes of foodborne illnesses. Detecting pathogenic bacterial contaminants in complex matrices (e.g., fresh produce) is an essential step to ensure food safety. One of the major challenges for detecting those contaminants lies in the lack of rapid and ultrasensitive detection methods. This multidisciplinary project aims to develop innovative biosensors that can rapidly and accurately screen a large number of samples for pathogenic contaminants. This project is integrated with outreach activities offered through the STEMette Summer Camp and Engineering High School Day to introduce K-12 students to the state-of-the-art biosensor technology. In addition, new course modules based on the results of this project are incorporated into existing undergraduate and graduate courses. Funding sources: NSF CBET.