Boxin Zhao

Professor, Chemical Engineering

Research interests: fundamental and practical aspects of adhesion, wetting, and friction of soft bio-nanomaterials, e.g. polymers, liquid crystals elastomers, and biological tissues, under micro- and nanometer confinements. Two major areas of interests are the design and fabrication of "smart" biomimetic devices with tailored physical, chemical, and interfacial properties and the development of novel conductive adhesives as a lead-free and multifunctional joining alternative for electronic packaging.


Professor Boxin Zhao is a professor in chemical engineering at the University of Waterloo in Canada. He obtained his PhD in Chemical Engineering from McMaster University in 2004, worked as a postdoc at UCSB in 2005-2008. Since joining the University of Waterloo in 2008, Professor Zhao has established and directed the Laboratory of Surface Science and Bionanomaterials. He has 100+ peer-refereed papers on the top journals including Macromolecules, Langmuir, ACS Nano, Advanced Materials, Nature Materials, and Chemical Society Reviews. He was awarded a prestigious Fulbright Visiting Research Chair at UCSB in 2015, and an Engineering Research Excellence Award at the University of Waterloo in 2017, and a Faculty of Engineering Distinguished Performance Award in 2019. The current research interests of his group are in the areas of smart polymers, bionanomaterials, soft materials, surface science, biomimetic adhesion and robotic devices, 3D printing, advanced manufacturing, etc.


  • PhD, Chemical Engineering, McMaster University, 2004

  • MEng, Chemical Technology, Chinese Academy of Science, Beijing, 1999

  • BEng, Mineral Engineering, Central South University, China, 1996

Boxin Zhao


Biomimetic Adhesion and Bio-inspired Materials

Our research is inspired by the amazing aptitude of some insects and lizards, such as geckos. They can stick readily and rapidly to almost any surface (whether it is hydrophilic or hydrophobic, rough or smooth, dry or wet) and readily detach with equal rapidity (i.e. tens of milliseconds). The development of novel adhesive materials is important for effective bonding of dissimilar material components, which is one of the most critical technical prerequisites for manufacturing biosensors, medical devices, microelectronics, etc.

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Micro and Nano Adhesion and Adhesives Technology

There have been strong demands for developing polymer-based conductive adhesives that can effectively join similar or dissimilar materials components. Compared to the soldering technology, adhesive joining offers numerous advantages including mild processing conditions, simplified processing steps (reducing process cost), and ultrafine pitch capability. By applying various conductivity-enhancing agents and controlling mixing process, we aim to formulate new products with high electrical conductivity, good mechanical strength, and desirable printability.

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Nanoparticles Synthesis/Functionalization and Dispersion in Nanocomposites

We also synthesize new nanoparticles with various shapes and intrinsic properties, and study the dispersion and enhanced properties of nanofiller/polymer composites. The size, shape and loading concentrations of nanofillers are being investigated to understand their effects on the energy transfer processes, the contact adhesion, the surface morphology, the tribological properties, and the final electrical and thermal conductivities of the composites. We aim to generate new knowledge and produce new nanocomposites, which are much-needed information and of great importance in the field.

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Polymers, Interfacial Phenomena and Surface Chemistry

We have also been developing advanced materials to solve practical problems. For example, we studied the relationship between the oleophobicity of micropatterned trichloroperfluorooctylsilane (FDTS)-blended PDMS elastomer surfaces and the reduction of oil adhesion at low temperatures. In addition, we also fabricated electrically conductive and superoleophobic polydimethylsiloxane films by combining FDTS-blended PDMS elastomer with silver nanowires. This multifunctional material can remove the frozen oil droplets in a more effective way.

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Surface Forces and Contact Dynamics, Tribological Characterizations

We also conduct fundamental studies of the contacting surfaces in both static and dynamic conditions. In addition to essential macroscopic measurements, peel adhesion testing, shear and friction testing, and other detailed characterizations of surface wettability and micro- and nano-tribological properties are regularly performed. All these measurements are essential for their applications in coatings and adhesives industries. We also seek to understand the contact behaviors of nanoscopic thin films by designing new analytical solutions. Beyond this, new nanocomposites with superior tribological behaviors have also been developed.

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Contact Adhesion Studies of Hydrogels for Biomedical Applications

Hydrogels are a class of materials consisting of physical or chemical crosslinkage of hydrophilic polymer chains and a large amount of water. Hydrogels are similar in their physiochemical properties to the tissues in human body: hydrophilic, biocompatible, soft and adaptable to mechanical stress. In order to effectively transfer the hydrogels into practical applications as bioadhesive materials and artificial tissues (implants and repairs or reconstruction materials), it is important to understand the behavior of hydrogel under external stresses and to control the mechanical and surface properties of hydrogels. We elucidated the adhesion and associated micromechanical properties of hydrogels under various conditions.

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