Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
In response to a stimulus, soft materials, such as hydrogels and elastomers, can deform dramatically. This deformation is actually what provides most of their functions. Cai and colleagues have formulated theories to better understand the interplay of mechanics and other fields, including chemistry, electricity and temperature, in soft materials. He has also studied several ways of using soft active materials to convert energy in different forms. Cai is currently investigating how to design and optimize structures made of soft materials to provide diverse functions, including harvesting energy, regulating fluid and desalinating salt water. He also is looking into using the mechanical instability phenomena associated with large deformation in soft materials to guide electromagnetic waves and provide other functions.
Prof. Cai was a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 2011 to 2012. He earned a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Harvard University in 2011, after earning a master's of engineering and a bachelor's of science from the University of Science and Technology of China.