The Gu Group studies the mechanical behavior of nanomaterials. We work at the intersection of solid mechanics, materials science and nano-chemistry. We research the unique properties of nanoscale metals, ceramics and nano-architected composites in order to design strong, tough and lightweight structural materials, materials for extreme environments, and mechanically-actuated sensors. Our experimental tools include nanoindentation, electron microscopy, and colloidal synthesis.

Academic Appointments

Honors & Awards

  • ARO Young Investigator Program Award, Army Research Office (2020)
  • DOE Early Career Award, Department of Energy (2020)
  • Hellman Fellow, Hellman Foundation (2019)
  • Terman Faculty Fellow, Stanford Engineering (2017)
  • National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship, DoD (2011)
  • Fulbright Award, Fulbright (2009)

Boards, Advisory Committees, Professional Organizations

  • Symposium organizer, Society of Engineering Sciences (2018 - Present)
  • Member, Metals, Minerals and Materials Society (2017 - Present)
  • Member, Materials Research Society (2017 - Present)

Professional Education

  • BS, University of California, Berkeley (2009)
  • MS/PhD, California Institute of Technology (2014)


  • Mehrdad T. Kiani, X. Wendy Gu. "United States Patent 62/914089 Solution processed metallic nano-glass films", Leland Stanford Junior University,, Oct 11, 0019

2019-20 Courses

Stanford Advisees

  • Postdoctoral Faculty Sponsor
    Qi Li
  • Doctoral Dissertation Advisor (AC)
    David Doan, Mehrdad Kiani, John Kulikowski, Abhinav Parakh, Radhika Pramod Patil, Melody Wang
  • Doctoral Dissertation Co-Advisor (AC)
    Chen Liu
  • Master's Program Advisor
    Zhengqiu Lou

All Publications

  • Hardening in Au-Ag nanoboxes from stacking fault-dislocation interactions. Nature communications Patil, R. P., Doan, D., Aitken, Z. H., Chen, S., Kiani, M. T., Barr, C. M., Hattar, K., Zhang, Y., Gu, X. W. 2020; 11 (1): 2923


    Porous, nano-architected metals with dimensions down to ~10nm are predicted to have extraordinarily high strength and stiffness per weight, but have been challenging to fabricate and test experimentally. Here, we use colloidal synthesis to make ~140nm length and ~15nm wall thickness hollow Au-Ag nanoboxes with smooth and rough surfaces. In situ scanning electron microscope and transmission electron microscope testing of the smooth and rough nanoboxes show them to yield at 130±45MPa and 96±31MPa respectively, with significant strain hardening. A higher strain hardening rate is seen in rough nanoboxes than smooth nanoboxes. Finite element modeling is used to show that the structure of the nanoboxes is not responsible for the hardening behavior suggesting that material mechanisms are the source of observed hardening. Molecular dynamics simulations indicate that hardening is a result of interactions between dislocations and the associated increase in dislocation density.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s41467-020-16760-1

    View details for PubMedID 32522992

  • Structural distortion and electron redistribution in dual-emitting gold nanoclusters. Nature communications Li, Q., Zhou, D., Chai, J., So, W. Y., Cai, T., Li, M., Peteanu, L. A., Chen, O., Cotlet, M., Wendy Gu, X., Zhu, H., Jin, R. 2020; 11 (1): 2897


    Deciphering the complicated excited-state process is critical for the development of luminescent materials with controllable emissions in different applications. Here we report the emergence of a photo-induced structural distortion accompanied by an electron redistribution in a series of gold nanoclusters. Such unexpected slow process of excited-state transformation results in near-infrared dual emission with extended photoluminescent lifetime. We demonstrate that this dual emission exhibits highly sensitive and ratiometric response to solvent polarity, viscosity, temperature and pressure. Thus, a versatile luminescent nano-sensor for multiple environmental parameters is developed based on this strategy. Furthermore, we fully unravel the atomic-scale structural origin of this unexpected excited-state transformation, and demonstrate control over the transition dynamics by tailoring the bi-tetrahedral core structures of gold nanoclusters. Overall, this work provides a substantial advance in the excited-state physical chemistry of luminescent nanoclusters and a general strategy for the rational design of next-generation nano-probes, sensors and switches.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s41467-020-16686-8

    View details for PubMedID 32518297

  • Nucleation of Dislocations in 3.9 nm Nanocrystals at High Pressure. Physical review letters Parakh, A., Lee, S., Harkins, K. A., Kiani, M. T., Doan, D., Kunz, M., Doran, A., Hanson, L. A., Ryu, S., Gu, X. W. 2020; 124 (10): 106104


    As circuitry approaches single nanometer length scales, it has become important to predict the stability of single nanometer-sized metals. The behavior of metals at larger scales can be predicted based on the behavior of dislocations, but it is unclear if dislocations can form and be sustained at single nanometer dimensions. Here, we report the formation of dislocations within individual 3.9 nm Au nanocrystals under nonhydrostatic pressure in a diamond anvil cell. We used a combination of x-ray diffraction, optical absorbance spectroscopy, and molecular dynamics simulation to characterize the defects that are formed, which were found to be surface-nucleated partial dislocations. These results indicate that dislocations are still active at single nanometer length scales and can lead to permanent plasticity.

    View details for DOI 10.1103/PhysRevLett.124.106104

    View details for PubMedID 32216385

  • Design and synthesis of multigrain nanocrystals via geometric misfit strain. Nature Oh, M. H., Cho, M. G., Chung, D. Y., Park, I., Kwon, Y. P., Ophus, C., Kim, D., Kim, M. G., Jeong, B., Gu, X. W., Jo, J., Yoo, J. M., Hong, J., McMains, S., Kang, K., Sung, Y. E., Alivisatos, A. P., Hyeon, T. 2020; 577 (7790): 359–63


    The impact of topological defects associated with grain boundaries (GB defects) on the electrical, optical, magnetic, mechanical and chemical properties of nanocrystalline materials1,2 is well known. However, elucidating this influence experimentally is difficult because grains typically exhibit a large range of sizes, shapes and random relative orientations3-5. Here we demonstrate that precise control of the heteroepitaxy of colloidal polyhedral nanocrystals enables ordered grain growth and can thereby produce material samples with uniform GB defects. We illustrate our approach with a multigrain nanocrystal comprising a Co3O4 nanocube core that carries a Mn3O4 shell on each facet. The individual shells are symmetry-related interconnected grains6, and the large geometric misfit between adjacent tetragonal Mn3O4 grains results in tilt boundaries at the sharp edges of the Co3O4 nanocube core that join via disclinations. We identify four design principles that govern the production of these highly ordered multigrain nanostructures. First, the shape of the substrate nanocrystal must guide the crystallographic orientation of the overgrowth phase7. Second, the size of the substrate must be smaller than the characteristic distance between the dislocations. Third, the incompatible symmetry between the overgrowth phase and the substrate increases the geometric misfit strain between the grains. Fourth, for GB formation under near-equilibrium conditions, the surface energy of the shell needs to be balanced by the increasing elastic energy through ligand passivation8-10. With these principles, we can produce a range of multigrain nanocrystals containing distinct GB defects.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s41586-019-1899-3

    View details for PubMedID 31942056

  • Dislocation surface nucleation in surfactant-passivated metallic nanocubes MRS COMMUNICATIONS Kiani, M. T., Patil, R. P., Gu, X. 2019; 9 (3): 1029–33
  • Strengthening Mechanism of a Single Precipitate in a Metallic Nanocube NANO LETTERS Kiani, M. T., Wang, Y., Bertin, N., Cai, W., Gu, X. 2019; 19 (1): 255–60


    Nano-precipitates play a significant role in the strength, ductility and damage tolerance of metallic alloys through their interaction with crystalline defects, especially dislocations. However, the difficulty of observing the action of individual precipitates during plastic deformation has made it challenging to conclusively determine the mechanisms of the precipitate-defect interaction for a given alloy system, and presents a major bottleneck in the rational design of nanostructured alloys. Here we demonstrate the in situ compression of core-shell nanocubes as a promising platform to determine the precise role of individual precipitates. Each nanocube with a dimension of ~85 nm contains a single spherical precipitate of ~25 nm diameter. The Au-core/Ag-shell nanocubes show a yield strength of 495 MPa with no strain hardening. The deformation mechanism is determined to be surface nucleation of dislocations which easily traverses through the coherent Au-Ag interface. On the other hand, the Au-core/Cu-shell nanocubes show a yield strength of 829 MPa with a pronounced strain hardening rate. Molecular dynamics and dislocation dynamics simulations, in conjunction with TEM analysis, have demonstrated the yield mechanism to be the motion of threading dislocations extending from the semi-coherent Au-Cu interface to the surface, and strain hardening to be caused by a single-armed Orowan looping mechanism. Nanocube compression offers an exciting opportunity to directly compare computational models of defect dynamics with in situ deformation measurements to elucidate the precise mechanisms of precipitate hardening.

    View details for DOI 10.1021/acs.nanolett.8b03857

    View details for Web of Science ID 000455561300032

    View details for PubMedID 30525680

  • Mechanical Properties of Architected Nanomaterials Made from Organic-Inorganic Nanocrystals Mechanical Properties of Architected Nanomaterials Made from Organic-Inorganic Nanocrystals Gu, X. W. 2018: 2205-2217
  • Pseudoelasticity at Large Strains in Au Nanocrystals. Physical review letters Gu, X. W., Hanson, L. A., Eisler, C. N., Koc, M. A., Alivisatos, A. P. 2018; 121 (5): 056102


    Pseudoelasticity in metals is typically associated with phase transformations (e.g., shape memory alloys) but has recently been observed in sub-10 nm Ag nanocrystals that rapidly recovered their original shape after deformation to large strains. The discovery of pseudoelasticity in nanoscale metals dramatically changes the current understanding of the properties of solids at the smallest length scales, and the motion of atoms at surfaces. Yet, it remains unclear whether pseudoelasticity exists in different metals and nanocrystal sizes. The challenge of observing deformation at atomistic to nanometer length scales has prevented a clear mechanistic understanding of nanoscale pseudoelasticity, although surface diffusion and dislocation-mediated processes have been proposed. We further the understanding of pseudoelasticity in nanoscale metals by using a diamond anvil cell to compress colloidal Au nanocrystals under quasihydrostatic and nonhydrostatic pressure conditions. Nanocrystal structural changes are measured using optical spectroscopy and transmission electron microscopy and modeled using electrodynamic theory. We find that 3.9 nm Au nanocrystals exhibit pseudoelastic shape recovery after deformation to large uniaxial strains of up to 20%, which is equivalent to an ellipsoid with an aspect ratio of 2. Nanocrystal absorbance efficiency does not recover after deformation, which indicates that crystalline defects may be trapped in the nanocrystals after deformation.

    View details for PubMedID 30118265

  • Tolerance to structural disorder and tunable mechanical behavior in self-assembled superlattices of polymer-grafted nanocrystals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America Gu, X. W., Ye, X., Koshy, D. M., Vachhani, S., Hosemann, P., Alivisatos, A. P. 2017


    Large, freestanding membranes with remarkably high elastic modulus (>10 GPa) have been fabricated through the self-assembly of ligand-stabilized inorganic nanocrystals, even though these nanocrystals are connected only by soft organic ligands (e.g., dodecanethiol or DNA) that are not cross-linked or entangled. Recent developments in the synthesis of polymer-grafted nanocrystals have greatly expanded the library of accessible superlattice architectures, which allows superlattice mechanical behavior to be linked to specific structural features. Here, colloidal self-assembly is used to organize polystyrene-grafted Au nanocrystals at a fluid interface to form ordered solids with sub-10-nm periodic features. Thin-film buckling and nanoindentation are used to evaluate the mechanical behavior of polymer-grafted nanocrystal superlattices while exploring the role of polymer structural conformation, nanocrystal packing, and superlattice dimensions. Superlattices containing 3-20 vol % Au are found to have an elastic modulus of ∼6-19 GPa, and hardness of ∼120-170 MPa. We find that rapidly self-assembled superlattices have the highest elastic modulus, despite containing significant structural defects. Polymer extension, interdigitation, and grafting density are determined to be critical parameters that govern superlattice elastic and plastic deformation.

    View details for DOI 10.1073/pnas.1618508114

    View details for PubMedID 28242704

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5358368

  • In Situ Lithiation-Delithiation of Mechanically Robust Cu-Si Core-Shell Nanolattices in a Scanning Electron Microscope ACS ENERGY LETTERS Xia, X., Di Leo, C. V., Gu, X. W., Greer, J. R. 2016; 1 (3): 492-499
  • Tailoring of Interfacial Mechanical Shear Strength by Surface Chemical Modification of Silicon Microwires Embedded in Nafion Membranes ACS NANO Gallant, B. M., Gu, X., Chen, D. Z., Greer, J. R., Lewis, N. S. 2015; 9 (5): 5143–53


    The interfacial shear strength between Si microwires and a Nafion membrane has been tailored through surface functionalization of the Si. Acidic (-COOH-terminated) or basic (-NH2-terminated) surface-bound functionality was introduced by hydrosilylation reactions to probe the interactions between the functionalized Si microwires and hydrophilic ionically charged sites in the Nafion polymeric side chains. Surfaces functionalized with SiOx, Si-H, or Si-CH3 were also synthesized and investigated. The interfacial shear strength between the functionalized Si microwire surfaces and the Nafion matrix was quantified by uniaxial wire pull-out experiments in an in situ nanomechanical instrument that allowed simultaneous collection of mechanical data and visualization of the deformation process. In this process, an axial load was applied to the custom-shaped top portions of individual wires until debonding occurred from the Nafion matrix. The shear strength obtained from the nanomechanical measurements correlated with the chemical bond strength and the functionalization density of the molecular layer, with values ranging from 7 MPa for Si-CH3 surfaces to ∼16-20 MPa for oxygen-containing surface functionalities. Hence surface chemical control can be used to influence the mechanical adhesion forces at a Si-Nafion interface.

    View details for DOI 10.1021/acsnano.5b00468

    View details for Web of Science ID 000355383000050

    View details for PubMedID 25872455

  • Ductility and work hardening in nano-sized metallic glasses APPLIED PHYSICS LETTERS Chen, D. Z., Gu, X. W., An, Q., Goddard, W. A., Greer, J. R. 2015; 106 (6)

    View details for DOI 10.1063/1.4907773

    View details for Web of Science ID 000349845300022

  • Ultra-strong Architected Cu Meso-lattices Extreme Mechanics Letters Gu, X. W., Greer, J. R. 2015: 7-14
  • Mechanisms of Failure in Nanoscale Metallic Glass NANO LETTERS Gu, X. W., Jafary-Zadeh, M., Chen, D. Z., Wu, Z., Zhang, Y., Srolovitz, D. J., Greer, J. R. 2014; 14 (10): 5858-5864


    The emergence of size-dependent mechanical strength in nanosized materials is now well-established, but no fundamental understanding of fracture toughness or flaw sensitivity in nanostructures exists. We report the fabrication and in situ fracture testing of ∼70 nm diameter Ni-P metallic glass samples with a structural flaw. Failure occurs at the structural flaw in all cases, and the failure strength of flawed samples was reduced by 40% compared to unflawed samples. We explore deformation and failure mechanisms in a similar nanometallic glass via molecular dynamics simulations, which corroborate sensitivity to flaws and reveal that the structural flaw shifts the failure mechanism from shear banding to cavitation. We find that failure strength and deformation in amorphous nanosolids depend critically on the presence of flaws.

    View details for DOI 10.1021/nl5027869

    View details for Web of Science ID 000343016400060

    View details for PubMedID 25198652

  • Effects of Helium Implantation on the Tensile Properties and Microstructure of Ni73P27 Metallic Glass Nanostructures NANO LETTERS Liontas, R., Gu, X., Fu, E., Wang, Y., Li, N., Mara, N., Greer, J. R. 2014; 14 (9): 5176–83


    We report fabrication and nanomechanical tension experiments on as-fabricated and helium-implanted ∼130 nm diameter Ni73P27 metallic glass nanocylinders. The nanocylinders were fabricated by a templated electroplating process and implanted with He(+) at energies of 50, 100, 150, and 200 keV to create a uniform helium concentration of ∼3 atom % throughout the nanocylinders. Transmission electron microscopy imaging and through-focus analysis reveal that the specimens contained ∼2 nm helium bubbles distributed uniformly throughout the nanocylinder volume. In situ tensile experiments indicate that helium-implanted specimens exhibit enhanced ductility as evidenced by a 2-fold increase in plastic strain over as-fabricated specimens with no sacrifice in yield and ultimate tensile strengths. This improvement in mechanical properties suggests that metallic glasses may actually exhibit a favorable response to high levels of helium implantation.

    View details for DOI 10.1021/nl502074d

    View details for Web of Science ID 000341544500039

    View details for PubMedID 25084487

  • Microstructure versus Flaw: Mechanisms of Failure and Strength in Nanostructures NANO LETTERS Gu, X. W., Wu, Z., Zhang, Y., Srolovitz, D. J., Greer, J. R. 2013; 13 (11): 5703-5709


    Understanding failure in nanomaterials is critical for the design of reliable structural materials and small-scale devices with nanoscale components. No consensus exists on the effect of flaws on fracture at the nanoscale, but proposed theories include nanoscale flaw tolerance and maintaining macroscopic fracture relationships at the nanoscale with scarce experimental support. We explore fracture in nanomaterials using nanocrystalline Pt nanocylinders with prefabricated surface notches created using a "paused" electroplating method. In situ scanning electron microscopy (SEM) tension tests demonstrate that the majority of these samples failed at the notches, but that tensile failure strength is independent of whether failure occurred at or away from the flaw. Molecular dynamics simulations verify these findings and show that local plasticity is able to reduce stress concentration ahead of the notch to levels comparable with the strengths of microstructural features (e.g., grain boundaries). Thus, failure occurs at the stress concentration with the highest local stress whether this is at the notch or a microstructural feature.

    View details for DOI 10.1021/nl403453h

    View details for Web of Science ID 000327111700111

    View details for PubMedID 24168654

  • Size-Dependent Deformation of Nanocrystalline Pt Nanopillars NANO LETTERS Gu, X. W., Loynachan, C. N., Wu, Z., Zhang, Y., Srolovitz, D. J., Greer, J. R. 2012; 12 (12): 6385-6392


    We report the synthesis, mechanical properties, and deformation mechanisms of polycrystalline, platinum nanocylinders of grain size d = 12 nm. The number of grains across the diameter, D/d, was varied from 5 to 80 and 1.5 to 5 in the experiments and molecular dynamics simulations, respectively. An abrupt weakening is observed at a small D/d, while the strengths of large nanopillars are similar to bulk. This "smaller is weaker" trend is opposite to the "smaller is stronger" size effect in single crystalline nanostructures. The simulations demonstrate that the size-dependent behavior is associated with the distinct deformation mechanisms operative in interior versus surface grains.

    View details for DOI 10.1021/nl3036993

    View details for Web of Science ID 000312122100057

    View details for PubMedID 23148764

  • Exploring Deformation Mechanisms in Nanostructured Materials JOM Greer, J. R., Jang, D., Gu, X. 2012; 64 (10): 1241–52
  • Photoconductive CdSe Nanowire Arrays, Serpentines, and Loops Formed by Electrodeposition on Self-Organized Carbon Nanotubes JOURNAL OF PHYSICAL CHEMISTRY C Gu, X., Shadmi, N., Yarden, T. S., Cohen, H., Joselevich, E. 2012; 116 (37): 20121–26

    View details for DOI 10.1021/jp306804y

    View details for Web of Science ID 000308855600064

  • Suppression of Catastrophic Failure in Metallic Glass-Polyisoprene Nanolaminate Containing Nanopillars ADVANCED FUNCTIONAL MATERIALS Kim, J., Gu, X., Wraith, M., Uhl, J. T., Dahmen, K. A., Greer, J. R. 2012; 22 (9): 1972–80
  • Liquid Crystalline Orientation of Rod Blocks within Lamellar Nanostructures from Rod Coil Diblock Copolymers MACROMOLECULES Olsen, B. D., Gu, X., Hexemer, A., Gann, E., Segalman, R. A. 2010; 43 (16): 6531–34

    View details for DOI 10.1021/ma101056r

    View details for Web of Science ID 000280855000002

  • A Universal and Solution-Processable Precursor to Bismuth Chalcogenide Thermoelectrics Chemistry of Materials Wang, R. Y., Feser, J. P., Gu, X., Yau, K. M., Segalman, R. A., Majumdar, A., Milliron, D. J., Urban, J. J. 2010: 1943-1945