Alex Li

  1. Professor
LocationFulmer 171



Post-Doctoral Study, Materials Chemistry
Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, NM

Ph.D. Inorganic Chemistry
Northwestern University

M.S. Inorganic Chemistry
Northwestern University

B.S. Polymer Chemistry
Jilin University, China

Awards and Honors

  • Honorary Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Fellowship (2007)
  • Arnold and Mabel Beckman Young Investigator (BYI) Award (2003)
  • R&D 100 Award (1995)
  • Los Alamos Director’s Fellow (1990-1992)
  • Sigma Xi

News and Recent Publications

Our recent publication, entitled “Cooperatively Assembled Liquid Crystals Enable Temperature-Controlled Forster Resonance Energy Transfer,” has been selected as the front cover of Chemical Science.


Illustrations and digitized images of figures and models, etc.

Professor Li received his B. S. in polymer chemistry at Jilin University, China, his M. S. and Ph. D. in Inorganic Chemistry from Northwestern University, Evanston, IL. He was a postdoctoral director fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he later became a Technical Staff Member before joining the faculty at WSU in 2000.

Among the themes of our research are macromolecular design and engineering, advanced materials synthesis, biofunctionality and nanotechnology integration, self-assembly and supramolecular systems, surface chemistry and catalysis, and metal oxide thin films.

One of our research thrusts is to integrate biological functionalities into synthetic nanosystems using molecular self-assembly principles. The goals are to create smart systems that may function as biosensors, nanoactuators, or digital nanocomputers. If we can successfully harvest the knowledge of how biosystems function, perhaps we can apply such smart bio-nano-hybrids back to bioprocesses and test our understanding.

Another thrust aims at constructing nanostructured materials including hollow nanospheres, nanoporous polymers, and self-assembled multilayers. The research interests here range from electronic or photonic materials to controlled absorption and release of organic molecules such as drugs. The target here is to realize our design principles and synthesize new materials having novel and useful chemical, physical, or biological properties. Frequently, skills in organic, inorganic, or polymeric synthesis will be needed to prepare the target nanostructures.

In summary, our philosophy is to use novel methods to construct advanced materials, with an emphasis on molecular design and innovative approaches to demonstrate new concepts, principles, and applications in the chemical, physical, and biological sciences.

Journal cover: Chemical Science.


  • “To Fold or to Assemble?” Wei Wang, L-S. Li, G. Helms, H-H. Zhou, Alexander D. Q. Li, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2003125(5), 1120-1121.
  • “Folding vs. Assembling.” Alexander D. Q. Li, Wei Wang, and Li-Qiong Wang. Chemistry-A European Journal. 2003, 9, 4594-4601.
  • Alternating DNA and π-Conjugated Sequences. Thermophilic Foldable Polymers. Wei Wang, Wei Wan, Hong-Hui Zhou, Shuqiang Niu, and Alexander D.Q. Li, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2003, 125(18), 5248-9.
  • Dynamic π-π Stacked Molecular Assemblies Emit from Green to Red Colors. Wei Wang, Jason J. Han, Li-Qiong Wang, Lin-Song Li, Wendy J. Shaw, and Alexander D.Q. Li, Nano Letters 20033(4), 455-458.
  • Thermosensitive Gold Nanoparticles. Ming-Qiang Zhu, Li-Qiong Wang, Gregory J. Exarhos, and Alexander D.Q. Li, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2004126, 2656-2657.
  • Polymer-assisted deposition of metal oxide films. Q. X. Jia, T. M. McCleskey, A. K. Burrell, Y. Lin, G. E. Collis, H. Wang, A. D. Q. Li, and S. R. Foltyn. Nature Materials. 20043, 529.
  • Light-Controlled Molecular Switches Modulate Nanocrystal Fluorescence. Lin-Yong Zhu, Ming-Qiang Zhu, James K. Hurst, and Alexander D.Q. Li, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2005127(25); 8968-8970.
  • Spiropyran-Based Photochromic Polymer Nanoparticles with Optically Switchable Luminescence. Ming-Qiang Zhu, Linyong Zhu, Jason J. Han, James K. Hurst and Alexander D. Q. Li, J. Am. Chem. Soc.2006128, 4303-4309
  • Folding and Unfolding of Chromophoric Foldamers Show Unusual Colorful Single Molecule Spectral Dynamics. Jason J. Han, Wei Wang, Alexander D.Q. Li, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2006128, 673-674.
  • Cyclization and Catenation Directed by Molecular Self-Assembly. Wei Wang, LiQiong Wang, Bruce J. Palmer, Gregory J. Exarhos, and Alexander D. Q. Li, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2006128 (34), 11150-11159.
  • Reversibly Photoswitchable Dual-Color Fluorescent Nanoparticles as New Tools for Live-Cell Imaging.Zhu, L.; Wu, W.; Zhu, M.-Q.; Han, J. J.; Hurst, J. K.; Li, A. D. Q. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2007129(12); 3524-3526.
  • Architecturally diverse nanostructured foldamers reveal insightful photoinduced single-molecule dynamics. Han, Jason J., Shaller, Andrew D.), Wang, Wei, Li, Alexander D. Q. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2008130(22), 6974-6982.
  • Twisted perylene stereodimers reveal chiral molecular assembly codes. Wang, Wei, Shaller, Andrew D., Li, Alexander D. Q. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2008130(26), 8271-8279.
  • Tunable molecular assembly codes Direct Reaction Pathways. Shaller, Andrew D., Wang, Wei, Haiyang Gan, Li, Alexander D. Q.Angew. Chem Int. Ed. 200847(40), 7705-7709.
  • Photoswitchable Nanoparticles Enable High-Resolution Cell Imaging: PULSAR Microscopy. Dehong Hu, Zhiyuan Tian, Wuwei Wu, Wei Wan, and Alexander D. Q. Li, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2008130 (46), 15279-15281.
  • Mechanically Stretching Folded Nano-p-stacks Reveals Pico-Newton Attractive Forces. Jung Sook Kim, Yu Jin Jung, Joon Won Park, Andrew D. Shaller, Wei Wan, and Alexander D. Q. Li, Adv. Mater. 200820, 1–4.
  • Single-Chromophore-Based Photoswitchable Nanoparticles Enable Dual-Alternating-Color Fluorescence for Unambiguous Live Cell Imaging. Zhiyuan Tian, Wuwei Wu, Wei Wan, Alexander D. Q. Li, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2009,131(12), 4245-4252.
  • Reversible Two-Photon Photoswitching and Two-Photon Imaging of Immuno-Functionalized Nanoparticles Targeting to Cancer Cells, M. Q. Zhu, G.-F. Zhang, C. Li, M. P. Aldred, E. Chang, R. A. Drezek, A. D. Q. Li, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2011133, 365-372.
  • Photoswitching-induced frequency-locked donor-acceptor fluorescence double modulation identifies the target analyte in complex environments, Z. Y. Tian, W. W. Wu, W. Wan, A. D. Q. Li, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2011, 133, 16092-16100.
  • Photoswitchable Nanoprobes Offer Unlimited Brightness in Frequency-Domain Imaging, Alexander D.Q. Li, Chuanlang Zhan, DeHong Hu, Wei Wan, Jiannian Yao, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2011, 133, 7628-7631.
  • Sequence-Controlled Oligomers Fold into Nanosolenoids and Impart Unusual Optical Properties, Andrew D. Shaller, Wei Wang, Aixiao Li, Guillermo Moyna, Jason J. Han, Gregory L. Helms, and Alexander D. Q. Li, Chemistry—An European Journal 201117, 8350-62.