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Joerg Lahann | Faculty

Joerg Lahann

Director of the Biointerfaces Institute

Professor: Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Macromolecular Science and Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering

NCRC B10-A175B (Office)
NCRC B26-114S 120S (Labs)
(734) 763-7543



Profile story

University of Michigan Biointerfaces Institute director Joerg Lahann knew from a young age that he wanted to be a chemist. His childhood included the typical chemist’s rites of passage: a chemistry set, a certain amount of parental apprehension and at least one occasion when he unleashed a stink that forced everyone out of the house.

It was fun and interesting, but by the time he got to college, Lahann concluded that chemistry for its own sake wasn’t enough for him.

“Essentially what I saw was people doing these really sophisticated reactions in a test tube and running to record the results... and the moment you have it, this thing ends up in the garbage and you’re on to the next one,” said Lahann. “There was no real drive in doing something useful.”

“I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to do something that can help people.”

After earning a masters degree in chemistry, Lahann turned his attention to the intersection of chemistry, biology and medicine - a space that offers unique opportunities for someone who can make custom molecules while everyone else has to order their materials from a catalog.

He came to Michigan after postdoctoral work with drug delivery and bioengineering pioneer Bob Langer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Following Langer’s lead, he regularly gets out of his lab to better understand what doctors need to treat their patients, then creates particles, surfaces and structures from the molecular level that are uniquely suited to the task.

“I want my students to work on problems that have potential to be important. I want them to focus on impact,” said Lahann, now a professor in the U-M departments of Chemical Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, and Macromolecular Science and Engineering. “That means you’re going to have to look in the mirror every day and ask, ‘Do I actually understand that problem?’ The answer is probably not, so I’m going to have to make that extra step to go outside of my comfort zone talk to people that understand those problems. This is where the interdisciplinarity comes in. It’s not a goal in its own right; it’s a means to an end - but a critical means.”

Because most cancer treatments now include a cocktail of drugs, Lahann and his students built micro- and nanoparticles that incorporate different kinds of polymer pockets into a particle structure. Each pocket can carry a different drug and release it independently based on when its polymer dissolves.

More recently he’s worked with pediatric oncologist Greg Yanik, M.D. at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital on a more targeted way to deliver the cancer-fighting isotopes used to treat neuroblastoma, a childhood cancer that affects 600-800 kids a year in the U.S. If he’s successful it will ease some of the stress of treatment for patients and their families.

Neuroblastoma treatment currently involves feeding patients a specific radioactive isotope that attacks the cancer. The way the material is administered requires that the children be isolated during treatment because they’re radioactive. For a week, all their parents can do is watch them through a window.

“It’s horrible,” said Lahann, a father of two.

When Yanik gave Lahann a tour of the unit, the doctor introduced Lahann to the nurses as “the guy who’s going to work on an alternative therapy for this.”

“It’s a long way yet and I don’t know if we can do it, but just having a cause to work on - for someone like me that’s used to making molecules - is a real great feeling and a great opportunity,” Lahann said.

Lahann has also worked with doctors to design a synthetic polymer surface for growing stem cells into new tissues and a weblike scaffolding that allows researchers to grow a patient’s cancer cells into a sample large enough to test treatments on.

Mice and mouse cells are typically used as platforms in both instances, but they come with certain drawbacks. There’s no guarantee that the mouse tissue won’t influence the result, and growing cancer cells in mice takes time - perhaps more of it than the patient has to spare.

“The bottom line is: I really enjoy working on real problems, and the real problems come when you interact with people who are working outside your domain,” he said. “Interdisciplinary research is critical for creating impact.”

Short Bio


RWTH Aachen (Germany)
PhD Macromolecular Chemistry '98
MS Chemistry '95

University of Saarland (Germany)
BSc Chemistry '93



University of Michigan
Chemical Engineering Department
Ann Arbor, Michigan

  • Professor, 2012
  • Associate Professor, 2008-2012
  • Assistant Professor, 2003-2008

Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (HMST)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Chemical Engineering
Post-doctoral Associate, 1999-2001

Research & Teaching


Designer surfaces, advanced polymers, biomimetic materials, microfluidic devices, engineered microenvironments, nano-scale self-assembly.

Joerg Lahann's research is broadly related to surface engineering with strong ties to biomedical engineering and nanotechnology. Earlier this year, his research on reversibly switching surfaces was featured in an article in Science (J. Lahann, et al., A Reversibly Switching Surface, January 17, 2003, 299, 371-374.) These "smart surfaces" can reversibly switch properties in response to an external stimulus. To demonstrate these findings, a surface design was developed that can be changed from water-attracting to water-repelling with the application of a weak electric field. Designed as a switch, single-layered molecular-level machines are aligned on a surface using self-assembly and then are flipped between defined microscopic states. This type of surface design may offer a new paradigm for interfacial engineering as it amplifies reversible conformational transitions at a molecular level to macroscopic changes in surface properties without altering the chemical identity of the surface.

Joerg has also developed a novel class of polymers with potential for biomimetic and spatially directed surface engineering. This "reactive coating" technology uses chemical vapor deposition (CVD) polymerization to deposit a wide range of chemical signatures on various substrate materials. Its simplicity in providing chemically reactive groups and its applicability to three-dimensional geometries (e.g. for microfluidics) enables the exact tailoring of surface properties and the preparation of biologically relevant microenvironments. Reactive coatings are compatible with soft lithographic processes, allowing for patterning of proteins, DNA, cytokines, and mammalian cells.



  • ChE 342 Heat and Mass Transfer
  • ChE 343 Separation Processes
  • ChE 470 Colloids and Interfaces


  • ChE 563 Biomolecular Engineering of Interfaces
  • ChE 696 Biomolecular Engineering

Honors and Awards

  • Technology Review TR100 Young Innovator Award, 2004
  • NSF CAREER Award, 2004
    National Science Foundation
  • Justus-Liebig Fellowship of the Fonds of the German Industry, 2000-2001
  • Sigma XI — Full Membership, 2001
  • German Science Foundation Postdoctoral Grant, 1999
  • Borchers Prize of the RWTH Aachen, given for an outstanding performance to graduate students, 1998
  • Young Student Achievement Award of the Fonds of the German Industry, 1998

Recent Publications


  • J.F. Dyet, K. Schürmann, J. Lahann: "The Physical and Biological Properties of Metallic Stents" in Textbook of Endovascular Procedures, Eds: Dyet, Ettles, Wilson, Churchill Livingstone, New York, Edinburgh, London, Philadelphia, 20-25, 2000.
  • J. Lahann, "Verfahren zur Ausrüstung von Metallimplantaten mit bioaktiven Oberflächen", Shaker Verlag, Maastricht, ISBN 3-8265-4496-X, 1998.
  • D. Klee, J. Lahann, W. Plüster, "Dünne Beschichtungen auf Biomaterialien" in Medizintechnik mit biokompatiblen Werkstoffen und Verfahren, E. Wintermantel, S.-W. Ha (Eds.) Springer Verlag Berlin Heidelberg, New York, 347-360, 2002.
  • D. Klee, N. Weiss, J. Lahann, "Vapor-based polymerization of functionalized [2.2]paracyclophanes: A unique approach towards surface-engineered microenvironments" in Paracyclophanes, H. Hopf (ed.), VCH Weinheim, in preparation.


  • H. Nandivada, A. M. Ross, J. Lahann, “Stimuli responsive monolayers for biotechnology,” Progress in Polymer Science, 35(1-2), 141-154, 2010.
  • D. W. Lim, S. Hwang, O. Uzun, F. Stellacci, J. Lahann, “Compartmentalization of Gold Nanocrystals in Polymer Microparticles Using Electrohydrodynamic Co-jetting,” Macromolecular Rapid Communications, 31(2), 176-182, 2010.
  • S. Bhaskar, K. M. Pollock, M. Yoshida, J. Lahann, “Towards Designer Microparticles: Simultaneous Control of Anisotropy, Shape, and Size” Small, 6(3), 404-411, 2010.
  • M. Yoshida, K-H. Roh, S. Mandal, S. Bhaskar, D. W. Lim, H. Nandivada, X. Deng, J. Lahann. “Structurally Controlled Bio-hybrid Materials Based on Unidirectional Association of Anisotropic Microparticles with Human Endothelial Cells,”  Advanced Materials, 21(48), 4920-4925, 2009.
  • S. Mandal, S. Bhaskar, J. Lahann. “Micropatterned Fiber Scaffolds for Spatially-Controlled Cell Adhesion” Macromolecular Rapid Communications, 131(19), 6650-6651, 2009.
  • Y. Elkasabi, H. Nandivada, H-Y Chen, S. Bhaskar, J. D’Arcy, L. Bondarenko, J. Lahann. “Partially Fluorinated Poly-p-xylylenes Synthesized by CVD Polymerization” Chemical Vapor Deposition, 15(4-6), 142-149, 2009.
  • A. Sun and J. Lahann. “Dynamically Switchable Biointerfaces,” Soft Matter, 5(8), 1555-1561, 2009.    

A. Kazemi, J. Lahann. "Environmentallly responsive core/shell particles via electrohydrodynamic co-jetting of fully miscible polymer solutions." Small (2008), 4(10), 1756-1762.
  • S. Bhaskar, K-H. Roh, X.W. Jiang, G.L. Baker, J. Lahann. "Spatioselective modification of bicompartmental polymer particles and fibers via Huisgen 1,3-dipolar cycloaddition" Macromolecular rapid communications (2008), 29(20), 1655-1660.
  • D.K. Peng, A.A. Ahmadi, J. Lahann. "A synthetic surface that undergoes spatiotemporal remodeling" Nano Letters (2008), 8(10), 3336-3340.
  • H.Y. Chen, J.H Lai, X.W. Jiang, J. Lahann. "Substrate-selective chemical vapor deposition of reactive polymer coatings" Advanced Materials (2008), 20(18), 3474.
  • Y. Elkasabi, M. Yoshida, H. Nandivada, H-Y. Chen, J. Lahann. "Towards multipotent coatings: Chemical vapor deposition and biofunctionalization of carbonyl-substituted copolymers" Macromolecular rapid communications (2008), 29(11), 855-870.
  • M. Yoshida, J. Lahann. "Smart Nanomaterials" ACS Nano (2008), 2(6), 1101-1107.

J. Lahann. "Environmental nanotechnology - Nanomaterials clean up" Nature Nanotechnology (2008), 3(6), 320-321.4.
  • X. Jiang, H.-Y. Chen, G. Galvan, M. Yoshida, J. Lahann. "Vapor-based initiator coatings for atom transfer radical polymerization" Advanced Functional Materials (2008), 18(1), 27-35.


  • J. Lahann, K.F. Jensen, R. Langer, "Reactive Polymer Coatings", US patent application, 2001; PCT application 2002.
  • J. Lahann, S. Mitragotri, R. Langer, "Switchable Surfaces", US patent application, 2001; PCT application 2002.
  • J. Lahann, J. Reul, "Embolization element for the occlusion of vascular malformations", German Patent Application, 2001.
  • J. Lahann, "Procedure for the reversible local arrangement of defined, aligned molecule sequences of a polymer or reversible local arrangement of cationic and anionic states of a metal", DE 99-19905792, (German patent application) 2000.
  • J. Lahann, A. Lendlein, "Procedure for the selective release of materials encapsulated in polymers", DE 99-19905793 (German patent application) 2000.
  • J. Lahann, A. Lendlein, "Method for the controlled swelling of polymers in hydrophilic environment for the usage as hemostatic dressings", DE19905796 (German patent application) 2000.
  • J. Lahann, A. Lendlein, "Inorganic/organic hybrid system with adjustable boundary surface characteristics", DE19905795 (German patent application) 2000.
  • J. Lahann, W. Plüster, D. Klee, H. Höcker, "Method for targeted immobilization of the thrombogenic inhibitor hirudin on polymer surfaces",WO9932080, 1999.
  • W. Krause, H. Höcker, J. Lahann, D. Klee, (Schering AG), "Polymer-coated stents, processes for producing the same and their use in restenosis prevention", WO9848852, 1998.
  • W. Krause, H. Höcker, D. Klee, J. Lahann, (Schering AG), "Stents coated with fluoroalkyl groups, method for producing same and the use thereof in the prophylaxis of restenosis", EP98936352, 1998.
  • H. Höcker, J. Lahann, D. Klee, G. Lorenz, "Antithrombogenic coating for extra- or intracorporeal medical devices", DE 19604173 (German patent), 1996.
  • J. Reul, J. Lahann, D. Klee, "Method for the sealing of vascular malformations, especially cerebral aneurysms, with the application of wire-shaped embolization elements", DE 19647280 (German patent application), 1995.