Cecilia Leal's directory photo.

Cecilia Leal

Associate Professor

Primary Affiliation

Extracellular Vesicle Imaging and Therapy


Status Affiliate Faculty

Home Department of Materials Science and Engineering




  • Biography

    Cecilia Leal is an associate professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. Her primary affiliation is Extracellular Vesicle Imaging and Therapy. She is also a Racheff Faculty Scholar and is affiliated with Carle Illinois College of Medicine, Materials Research Laboratory, and Beckman Institute.

  • Honors
    • 2023: University of Illinois Scholar

    • 2021: Illinois Grainger College of Engineering Dean's Award for Excellence in Research for Associate Professor

    • 2019: Racheff Faculty Scholar Award

    • 2019: UIUC Campus Distinguished Promotion Award

    • 2018: Illinois Grainger College of Engineering Dean's Award for Excellence in Research for Assistant Professor

    • 2017: National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) Faculty Fellowship

  • Research

    Research Areas:

    • Biomaterials

    • Smart supramolecular structures for the transport of biomolecules (proteins, siRNA, mRNA, and DNA) in cells

    • Polymer-lipid hybrid membranes

    • Phase behavior of lung soft materials

    • Fundamental processes of lipid self-assembly

    • The interaction of exosomes and liposomes with the extracellular matrix

    Research Interests:

    • Health & Medicine

    • Nanoscale Science and Technology

    The aim of the Leal laboratory is to understand and exploit the intermolecular interactions of soft materials that are or mimic biologic matter. They focus their work on lipid-based systems both synthetic as well as present in nature. They characterize the self-assembly of these materials using robust X-ray and Microscopy techniques in order to learn, with molecular detail, how to tailor and functionalize them for relevant therapeutic and biotechnological applications.

  • 2023

    • J. Rueben, D. Steer and C. Leal*, "Super-swelling Behavior of Stacked Lipid Bilayer Systems", Eur. Phys. J. E. 46, 67 (2023) (This special issue aims at acknowledging Philip (Fyl) Pincus’ achievements)
    • L. Zheng, S. Bandara, Z. Tan, and C. Leal*, "Lipid nanoparticle topology regulates endosomal escape and delivery of RNA to the cytoplasm", Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 120, e2301067120 (2023)
    • M. Kang, Y. K. Go, M. Porras-Gómez, T. Koulaxizis, D. Steer, A. Statt* and C. Leal*, "Cooperative Self-Assembly of Lipid-Polymer Hybrids Stabilizing Highly-ordered Bicontinuous Cubic Phases in Air", Macromolecules 56, 5774–5783 (2023)
    • N. Kambar and C. Leal*, "Microfluidic synthesis of multilayered lipid/polymer hybrid nanoparticles for the formulation of low solubility drugs", Soft Matter 19, 1596-1605 (2023)


    • B. Soman, Y. K. Go, C. Shen, C. Leal, and C. Evans*, "Impact of Dynamic Covalent Chemistry and Precise Linker Length on Crystallization Kinetics and Morphology in Ethylene Vitrimers." Soft Matter, 18, 293-303 (2022).
    • J. Rueben, A. Jayaraman, M. K. Mahanthappa, and C. Leal*, "Near-Infrared-Triggered Reversible Transformations of Gold Nanorod-Laden Lipid Assemblies: Implications for Cellular Delivery", ACS Appl. Nano Mater. 5, 710-717 (2022). *ACS Editor's Choice
    • M. Porras-Gomez, H. Kim, M. T. Dronadula, N. Kambar, N. R. Aluru, Arend van der Zande* and C. Leal*, "Multiscale compression-induced restructuring of stacked lipid bilayers: From buckling delamination to molecular packing", PLOS ONE 17, e0275079 (2022)
    • M. Porras-Gómez, T. Shoaib, D. Steer, R. Espinosa-Marzal, Rosa, and C. Leal*, "Pathological cardiolipin-promoted membrane hemifusion stiffens pulmonary surfactant membranes", Biophys. J. 121, 886-896 (2022)
    • P. Singh, M. Pacholski, J. Gu, Y. K. Go, G. Singhal, C. Leal, P. Braun, K. Patankar, R. Drumright, S. Rogers, and C. Schroeder, "Designing multicomponent polymer colloids for self-stratifying films", Langmuir 38, 11160–11170 (2022)
    • Y. K. Go, J. Shin, G. Chen, and C. Leal*, "Reorientation of Crystalline Block Copolymer Membranes by Phospholipid Hybridization", Chem. Mater. 34, 8577–8592 (2022)


    • W. Zhou, S. R. Bandara, and C. Leal*, S. Anakk* (equal contribution of first and last authors), "Lipid droplet structural remodeling in adipose tissue upon caloric excess", bioRxiv 2021.08.23.457409 (2021)
    • Y. Go and C. Leal*, "Polymer–Lipid Hybrid Materials", Chem. Rev. 22, 13996–14030 (2021)
    • Z. Tan, Z. Song, T. Xue, L. Zheng, L. Jiang, Y. Jiang, Z. Fu, A. Nguyen, C. Leal , J. Cheng, "Open-air synthesis of oligo(ethylene glycol)-functionalized polypeptides from non-purified N-carboxyanhydrides", Biomater. Sci. 9, 4120-4126 (2021)


    • J. Koo, S. B. Kim, Y. S. Choi, Z. Xie, A. Bandodkar, J. Khalifeh, Y. Yan, H. Kim, M. K. Pezhouh, K. Doty, G. Lee, Y.-Y. Chen, S. M. V. Lee, G. D'Andrea, K. Jung, K.H. Lee, K. Li, S. Jo, H. Wang, J. H. Kim, J. Kim, S.-G. Choi, W. J. Jang, Y. S. Oh, I. Park, S. S. Kwak, J.-H. Park, D. Hong, X. Feng, C.-H. Lee, A. Banks, C. Leal, H. M. Lee, Y. Huang, C. K. Franz, W. Ray, M. MacEwan, S.-K. Kang & J. A Rogers, "Wirelessly controlled, bioresorbable drug delivery devices with active valves that exploit electrochemically triggered crevice corrosion". Sci. Adv. 6, eabb1093 (2020)
    • M. Han, H. Kim, C. Leal, M. Negrito, J. Batteas, R. Espinosa-Marzal, "Insight into the Electrical Double Layer of Ionic Liquids Revealed through its Temporal Evolution" Adv. Mater. Interfaces, 2001313 (2020)
    • M. Kim, M. Porras-Gomez, and C. Leal*, "Graphene-based sensing of oxygen transport through pulmonary membranes" Nat. Commun. 11, 1103 (10 pages) (2020)
    • S. Bandara, T. Molley, H. Kim, P. Bharath, K. Kristopher, and C. Leal* "The structural fate of lipid nanoparticles in the extracellular matrix" Mater. Horiz. 7, 125-134 (2020)
    • S. Lv, H. Kim, Z. Song, L. Feng, Y. Yang, R. Baumgartner, K.-Y. Tseng, S. J. Dillon, C. Leal, L. Yin, and J. Cheng "Unimolecular Polypeptide Micelles via Ultrafast Polymerization of N-Carboxyanhydrides" J. Am. Chem. Soc. 142, 8570-8574 (2020)
    • T. A. Kim, C. Lamuta, H. Kim, C. Leal and N. R. Sottos, "Interfacial Force-focusing Effect in Mechanophore-linked Nanocomposites" Adv. Sci. 7, 1903464 (2020)
    • Y. K. Go, N. Kambar, and C. Leal*, "Hybrid Unilamellar Vesicles of Phospholipids and Block Copolymers with Crystalline Domains", Polymers 12, 1232 (2020)


    • H. Kim, M. Han, S. Bandara, R. M. Espinoza-Marzal, and C. Leal*, "Mixing oil and water with ionic liquids: bicontinuous microemulsions under confinement" Soft Matter 15, 9609-9613 (2019)
    • J. Shin, J. Sung, M. Kang, X. Xie, B. Lee, K. M. Lee, T. J. White, C. Leal, N. Sottos, P. V. Braun, D. G. Cahill, "Light-triggered thermal conductivity switching in azobenzene polymers" Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 116, 5973-5978 (2019)
    • M. Porras-Gomez, and C. Leal*, "Lipid-based liquid crystalline films and solutions for the delivery of cargo to cells" Liq. Cryst. Rev. 7, 167-182 (2019). DOI. (Featured in the journal cover)
    • N.F. Bouxsein, C. Leal, C. S. McAllister, Y. Li, K. K. Ewert, C.E. Samuel, C. R. Safinya "3D Columnar Phase of Stacked Short DNA Organized by Coherent Membrane Undulations" Langmuir 35, 11891-11901 (2019)
    • S. W. Leung and C. Leal*, "The stabilization of primitive bicontinuous cubic phases with tunable swelling over a wide composition range", Soft Matter 15, 1269-1277 (2019)


    • D. Steer, S. W. Leung, H. Meiselman, D. Topgaard, and C. Leal*, "Structure of Lung-mimetic Multilamellar Bodies with Lipid Compositions Relevant in Pneumonia", Langmuir 34, 7561-7574 (2018).
    • H. Kim, J. Sung, Y. Chang, A. Alfeche, and C. Leal*, "Microfluidics Synthesis of Gene Silencing Cubosomes", ACS Nano 12, 9196-9205 (2018)
    • M. Kang, M. Tuteja, A. Centrone, D. Topgaard, and C. Leal*, "Nanostructured Lipid-based Films for Substrate Mediated Applications in Biotechnology" Adv. Funct. Mater. 28, 1704356 (20 pages) (2018).
    • M. Tuteja, M. Kang, and C. Leal*, A. Centrone*, "Nanoscale Partitioning of Paclitaxel in Hybrid Lipid-Polymer Membranes", Analyst 143, 3808-3813 (2018). DOI:10.1039/C8AN00838H. [Featured in the journal cover]
    • S. Y. Cho, M. Kang, J. Choi, M. E. Lee, H. J. Yoon, H. J. Kim, C. Leal, S. Lee, H. -J. Jin, Y. S. Yun, "Pyrolytic Carbon Nanosheets for Ultrafast and Ultrastable Sodium-Ion Storage" Small 14, 1703043 (9 pages) (2018).


    • D. Steer, M. Kang, and C. Leal*, "Soft nanostructured films for directing the assembly of functional materials" Nanotechnology 28, 142001 (17 pages) (2017).
    • H. Kim, Z. Song, and C. Leal*, "Super-swelled Lyotropic Single Crystals" Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 114, 10834-10839 (2017).
    • M. Kang, B. Lee, and C. Leal*, “Three-Dimensional Microphase Separation and Synergistic Permeability in Stacked Lipid-Polymer Hybrid Membranes” Chem. Mater. 29, 9120–9132 (2017).


    • J. Shin, M. Kang, T. Tsai, C. Leal, P.V. Braun, D.G. Cahill, “Thermally functional liquid crystal networks by magnetic field driven molecular orientation” ACS Macro Lett. 5, 955-960 (2016).
    • L.A. Jurado, H. Kim, A. Rossi, A. Arcifa, J.K. Schuh, N.D. Spencer, C. Leal, R.H. Ewoldt, R.M. Espinosa-Marzal, “Effect of the environmental humidity on the bulk, interfacial and nanoconfined properties of an ionic liquid” Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys. 18, 22719-22730 (2016).
    • M. Kang and C. Leal*, “Soft Nanostructured Films for Actuated Surface-Based siRNA Delivery” Adv. Funct. Mater. 26, 5610–5620 (2016). [Featured in the journal cover]
    • M. Kang, H. Kim, and C. Leal*, “Self-organization of nucleic acids in lipid constructs” ?Curr. Opin. Colloid Interface Sci. 26, 58-65 (2016).
    • N. R. Kim, Y. S. Yun, M. Y. Song, S. J. Hong, M. Kang, C. Leal, Y. W. Park, H.-J. Jin, "Citrus-Peel-Derived, Nanoporous Carbon Nanosheets Containing Redox-Active Heteroatoms for Sodium-Ion Storage" ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces 5, 3175–3181 (2016).
    • R. Mansbach, A. Ferguson, K. Kilian, J. Krogstad, C. Leal, A. Schleife, D. R. Trinkle, M. West, G. L. Herman, “Reforming an undergraduate materials science curriculum with computational modules” J. Mate. Educ. 38, 161-174 (2016).
    • S. Uzan, H. Kim, C. Leal. G.W. Padua, “Ethanol-induced whey protein gels as carriers for lutein droplets” Food Hydrocoll. 61, 426-432 (2016).
    • Y.S. Yun, S. Lee, N.R. Kim, M. Kang, C. Leal, K.Y. Park, K. Kang, H.J. Jin, “High and rapid alkali cation storage in ultramicroporous carbonaceous materials” J. Power Sources 313, 142-151 (2016).


    • B. H. Kim, M. S. Onses, J. B. Lim, S. Nam, N. Oh, H. Kim, K. J. Yu, J. W. Lee, J.-H. Kim, S.-K. Kang, C. H. Lee, J. Lee, J. H. Shin, N. H. Kim, C. Leal, M. Shim, J. A. Rogers, “High-Resolution Patterns of Quantum Dots Formed by Electrohydrodynamic Jet Printing for Light-Emitting Diodes“ Nano Lett. 15, 969–973 (2015).
    • C. H. Lee, H. Kim, D. Harburg, G. Park, Y. Ma, T. Pan, J. S. Kim, N. Y. Lee, B. H. Kim, K.-I. Jang, S.-K. Kang, Y. Huang, J. Kim, K.-M. Lee, and C. Leal*, J. A. Rogers*, "Biological lipid membranes for on-demand, wireless drug delivery from thin, bioresorbable electronic implants" NPG. Asia. Mater. 7(e227), 969-973 (2015).
    • H. Kim and C. Leal*, “Cuboplexes: Topologically Active siRNA Delivery“ ACS Nano 9, 10214–10226 (2015).
    • L.A. Jurado, H. Kim, A. Arcifa, A. Rossi, C. Leal, N.D. Spencer, R.M. Espinosa-Marzal, “Irreversible structural change of a dry ionic liquid under nanoconfinement“ Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys. 17, 13613 –13624 (2015).
    • Z. Song, H. Kim, X. Ba, R. Baumgartner, J.S. Lee, H. Tang, C. Leal, J Cheng. “Polypeptide vesicles with densely packed multilayer membranes“ Soft Matter 20, 4091-4098 (2015).


    • M. Kang, G. Huang, and C. Leal*, “Role of lipid polymorphism in acoustically sensitive liposomes“ Soft Matter 10, 8846–8854 (2014).


    • C. Leal, N. F. Bouxsein, K. K. Ewert, C. R. Safinya, "Highly efficient gene silencing activity of siRNA embedded in a nanostructured gyroid cubic lipid matrix" J. Am. Chem. Soc. 132, 16841–16847 (2010).


    • C. Leal, D. Sandström, P. Nevsten, D. Topgaard, "Local and translational dynamics in DNA–lipid assemblies monitored by solid-state and diffusion NMR" Biochim. Biophys. Acta – Biomembranes 1778, 214–228 (2008).