David Gracias


Director of Graduate Studies
Ph.D. Physical Chemistry, University of California at Berkeley, (’99)

Secondary Appointment:
Department of Materials Science and Engineering

Research Interests

  • Micro and Nanosystems
  • Robotics
  • Intelligent Systems
  • Smart Materials
  • Surface Science

David Gracias, professor and director of graduate studies in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, is known for the design, development, and characterization of miniaturized devices, intelligent materials, and systems. Many of these devices and systems are far smaller than what can be visualized with the naked eye or even optical microscopes, which makes them especially challenging to assemble and characterize.

Gracias’s multi-disciplinary approach leverages conventional microelectronic chip fabrication approaches as well as novel self-assembly processes. His research group uses elements from both the biotic (bacteria, cells) and abiotic (optical, electronic) worlds to create bionic structures. Among their tools are state-of-the-art fluorescence, FT-IR, Raman, and sum frequency generation optical spectroscopy techniques; electron microscopy; RF measurements such as GHz spectrum analysis; electrochemical methods such as potentiometry and chronoamperometry; and four point electrical testing with femto-amp resolution. Group members also use statistical and analytical methods to model data as well as finite element methods (HFSS, Surface Evolver).

Gracias credits his training in basic sciences, including physical chemistry and chemical biology, as well as in state-of-the-art engineering R&D in the microelectronics industry, with allowing him to break down traditional boundaries by making critical connections between seemingly disparate fields and between basic science and applied research. At Johns Hopkins, he has made revolutionary contributions to biomedical engineering by collaborating extensively with clinicians to apply the capabilities of micro and nanotechnology to modern medicine. In addition to publishing his academic work in top journals such as Science, Gracias is a prolific inventor with 30 issued patents.

He and his team have developed entirely new approaches to assemble and manufacture extremely small 3D and hybrid devices in a highly parallel and cost-effective manner. He has pioneered the field of self-folding by uncovering assembly principles based on strain engineering. His notable accomplishments include the self-assembly of patterned polyhedral capsules, particles, and devices with sizes down to 100 nanometers, which opens up applications in electronics, sensors, and drug delivery. His laboratory invented dust-sized biopsy forceps that can be deployed and operated en masse, offering the possibility for statistical sampling of organs and the early diagnosis of diseases such as cancer, and representing a major leap toward realizing the “swallow the surgeon” vision. Along with colleagues, he has invented programmable materials and soft robots that respond to biochemical cues offering the possibility for autonomous untethered operation.

Gracias has received the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award; NSF CAREER Award; Beckman Young Investigator Award; Camille Dreyfus Teacher Scholar Award; DuPont Young Professor Award; Maryland Outstanding Young Engineer Award; a Humboldt Fellowship for Experienced Researchers; and Bessel Award. He is an AIMBE Fellow.

Gracias earned an MS in chemistry from the Indian Institute of Technology (1994) and a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley and the Materials Science Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (1999). He was a post-doctoral fellow in the departments of chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard University (1999-2001).


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