Kai-tak Wan

Professor,  Mechanical and Industrial Engineering


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  • 617.373.2248


  • 243A FR
  • 617.373.3858

Research Focus

Cellular biomechanics; water filtration; thin film adhesion and characterization; subsurface mechano-sensing; shell adhesion; fundamental intersurface forces


Some of the research interests Dr. Wan specializes in are:

  • Cellular biomechanics: Mechanical characterization and adhesion measurements of cancer cells, bacterial strains, drug delivery micro-capsules / liposomes, murine oocytes, biological tissues
  • Water filtration: Adhesion, physisorption-chemisorption of pathogens to collector (sand) in the presence of intersurface forces and liquid flow through a porous medium
  • Thin film adhesion and characterization: Mechanical reliability and lifespan of coated or encapsulated micro-/nano-devices, microelectronics parts, grapheme devices, photovoltaic panels, electrospun fiber meshes (armor protection fabrics), nano-structures
  • Subsurface mechano-sensing: Mechanics of palpation to detect solid inclusion in soft tissues (e.g. breast cancer) in association with X-ray mammography, mechanical instability of lesion due to large elastic deformation and visco-rubber-elasticity
  • Shell adhesion: Mechanical behavior and adhesion-detachment of natural (e.g. cornea) and artificial shells (e.g. contact lenses)
  • Fundamental intersurface forces: Contact mechanics, adhesion mechanics, and colloidal science, fracture and delamination in the presence of long range surface forces and water meniscus, application in electronics and biomedical sciences


  • Ph.D. (1993), Chemical Physics, University of Maryland at College Park
  • B.Sc. (1st Hon), Physics, University of New South Wales, Australia

Honors & Awards

  • 2014 COE Faculty Fellow
  • 2006 Faculty Excellence Award, Missouri University of Science and Technology MST
  • 2006 AMAE Faculty Excellence Award, Academy of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineers, MST
  • National Science Foundation CAREER Award

Teaching Interests

  • Mechanics of Cells and Tissues
  • Fluid Mechanics
  • Thermodynamics

Professional Affiliations

  • American Society of Mechanical Engineers International
  • American Society of Engineering Education
  • Adhesion Society

Research Overview

Cellular biomechanics; water filtration; thin film adhesion and characterization; subsurface mechano-sensing; shell adhesion; fundamental intersurface forces

Micro/Nano Bio-Mechanical Characterization Lab

The primary focus of our research is on contact mechanics and ahesion at the nano and micro scale, a large part of which focuses on bridging the gap between biological and mechanical sciences. Broadly, our lab is currently exploring the areas of biomechanics of cells and bacteria, modeling adhesion between cells, adhesion between thin graphene films, mechanically characterizing cancerous cells for efficient drug delivery, and characterizing hydrogels for biomedical applications.

Micro/Nano Bio-Mechanical Characterization Lab

Selected Research Projects

  • Mechanical Integrity and Long Term Reliability of Photovoltaic Panels
    • – Principal Investigator, National Institute of Standards and Technology/Department of Energy
  • Mechanics of Fusion of Dissimilar Lipid BiLayers and Multi-Lamellar Vesicles
    • – Principal Investigator, National Science Foundation

Selected Publications

  • S. Liu, K.-T. Wan, A Preliminary Two-Dimensional Palpation Mechanics for Detecting a Hard Inclusion by Indentation of a Soft Matrix Under Large Strain, Journal of Applied Mechanics, 86, 2019, 051009
  • S.E. Julien, A. Lii-Rosales, K.-T. Wan, Y. Han, M.C. Tringides, J.W. Evans, P.A. Thiel, Squeezed Nanocrystals: Equilibrium Configuration of Metal Clusters Embedded Beneath the Surface of a Layered Material, Nanoscale, 11, 2019, 6445
  • J. Sun, S. Müftü, A.Z. Gu, K.-T. Wan, Intersurface Adhesion in the Presence of Capillary Condensation, Journal of Applied Mechanics, 85, 2018, 061009
  • W. Wang, J.V. Gray, S.E. Julien, K.-T. Wan, Mechanical Characterization of a Convex Shell (Contact Lens) with Meridional Thickness Variation, Experimental Mechanics, 58(6), 2018, 997–1002
  • T. Zhu, G. Li, S. Müftü, K.-T. Wan, One-Dimensional Constrained Blister Test to Measure Thin Film Adhesion, Journal of Applied Mechanics, 85, 2018, 054501
  • J. Sun, N. Tandogan, A.Z. Gu, Sinan Müftü, E.D. Goluch, K.-T. Wan, Quantification of Colloidal Filtration of Polystyrene Micro-Particles on Glass Substrate Using a Microfluidic Device, Colloids and Surfaces B: Biointerfaces, 165, 2018, 381–387


Apr 08, 2019

A New Model Can Predict the Shape of a Squeezed Nanocrystal When Blanketed Under Graphene

MIE PhD student Scott Julien, who works in Professor Kai-Tak Wan’s Micro/Nano Bio-Mechanical Characterization Lab, was featured in the Science Times article “A New Model Can Predict the Shape of a Squeezed Nanocrystal When Blanketed Under Graphene”.


Jul 27, 2017

MIE PhD Students Invent New System to Analyze Water

MIE PhD students Jianfeng Sun, Ran Ran, and undergraduate student Derek Tran have created a new microscope analyzer to test water for contaminants quicker than conventional methods. More than 844 million people around the globe lack access to clean water. One of the challenges is that bacteria from rivers can flow into groundwater sources, polluting […]


Jul 19, 2017

$350K NSF Grant to Explore Mechanics of Fusion

MIE Professors Kai-Tak Wan and Sinan Muftu were awarded a $350K NSF grant to explore the "Mechanics of fusion of dissimilar lipid bilayers and multi-lamellar vesicles". This is part of a collaborative research grant with Harvard University. Abstract Source: NSF Vesicles are small sacs surrounded by a lipid bilayer membrane and enclosing biomolecules essential for […]

Nov 01, 2016

Wan Awarded Patent for Equi-biaxial Membrane Stretcher

MIE Professor Kai-tak Wan was awarded a patent for his "Equi-biaxial membrane stretcher".

Nov 10, 2015

Printing SWCNT on 3D Patterned Surface

MIE Professor Kai-Tak Wan and Associate Professor Yung Joon Jung's research on "Printing Highly Controlled Suspended Carbon Nanotube Network on Micro-patterned Superhydrophobic Flexible Surface" was published in Scientific Reports.

Aug 20, 2013

21st Century Drinking Water

Mechanical and Industrial Engineering associate professor Kai-tak Wan, professor Sinan Muftu, & Civil and Environmental Engineering assistant professor April Gu were awarded a $400K National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to find a biomechanical model for predicting and improving water filtration and bioremediation. All three Professors are directors of successful labs at Northeastern University; Dr. Wan runs the Micro/Nano Biomechanical […]

Sep 26, 2012

Wan & Muftu Receive $185K Grant

MIE associate professor Kai-tak Wan and professor Sinan Muftu have been awarded an $185K NSF grant to study Mechano-Lipidomics and Mechano-Cytosis of Drug Delivery Liposomes. The research goal of this proposal is to build a comprehensive model of mechano-lipidomics and mechanocytosis by designing careful experiments and constructing solid-mechanics based models that are consistent with the […]


Apr 06, 2011

FY12 TIER 1 Award Recipients

28 COE faculty and affiliates were recipients of FY12 TIER 1 Interdisciplinary Research Seed Grants for 18 different research projects.

Jan 13, 2010

Gu & Wan Receive $150K DOE Grant

CEE assistant professor April Gu and MIE associate professor Kai-tak Wan, have received a grant from DOE to explore how nano-scale cell surface characteristics dictate the microbial transport and migration behavior in contaminant remediation.

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