Niels Holten-Andersen

  • Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering
  • B.Sc. Biology, University of Copenhagen, 1998
  • B.Sc.Hon. Molecular Biology, University of Canterbury, 2000
  • M.Sc. Cell Biology, University of Copenhagen, 2001
  • Ph.D. Biomolecular Science & Engineering, University of California-Santa Barbara, 2008

Biomaterials; Biomolecular Materials; Biophysics; Polymers

Niels Holten-Andersen


Thanks to hundreds of millions of years of molecular evolution, Nature today presents us with polymers that under ambient pressure and temperature can self- assemble into materials with extraordinary properties such as underwater adhesion and self-healing. In contrast, man-made polymer materials are typically water intolerant, mechanically irreversible and environmentally unfriendly. My long term research goal is to distill the design strategies evolved through biological material adaptation in Nature and use them to expand the material properties of synthetic polymers. In the short term my lab will focus on utilizing a recently discovered biological polymer crosslink mechanism to (I) control polymer mechanics, to (II) establish polymer networks in confined geometries, and to (III) assemble polymer materials with bio-inspired hierarchical designs.

Recent News

2018 GMC Awards

During the 2018 GMC Awards, Alfredo Alexander-Kats won Best Advisor and Niels Holten-Andersen won Best Teacher. Congratulations to both of them!     more

Enhanced water retention

Abstract:  The change from wet and soft to dry and hard is a viscoelastic to solid material transition widely displayed in nature, in particular in materials rich in metal-coordinate crosslinking. How metal-coordinate crosslink dynamics contribute to macromolecular…   more

2017 Faculty Promotions

Several DMSE faculty promotions will be taking effect starting July 1, 2017.  Congratulations to: Polina Anikeeva, Antoine Allanore, Niels Holten-Andersen, and Silvija Gradecak for their promotions this year! …   more

Fluorescent polymer gels: Light-emitting sensors that self-repair

"MIT researchers are now making fluorescent polymer gels that change color when they’re shaken, heated, exposed to acid, or otherwise disrupted. Given that response, these novel materials could be effective sensors for detecting changes in structures, fluids, or the environment. To create the…   more

Metallic gels produce tunable light emission

Researchers at MIT have developed a family of materials that can emit light of precisely controlled colors — even pure white light — and whose output can be tuned to respond to a wide variety of external conditions. The materials could find a variety of uses in detecting chemical and biological…   more

MITEI 2014 Seed Fund Awards Announced

The MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) has announced its latest round of seed grants to support early-stage innovative energy projects. A total of more than $1.6 million was awarded to 11 projects, each lasting up to two years. With this latest round, the MITEI Seed Fund Program has supported 129…   more



Q. Zhu, Zhang, L., Van Vliet, K., Miserez, A., and Holten-Andersen, N., “White Light-Emitting Multistimuli-Responsive Hydrogels with Lanthanides and Carbon Dots”, ACS Applied Materials \& Interfaces, vol. 10. pp. 10409-10418, 2018.
S. Kim, Peterson, A. M., and Holten-Andersen, N., “Enhanced Water Retention Maintains Energy Dissipation in Dehydrated Metal-Coordinate Polymer Networks: Another Role for Fe-Catechol Cross-Links?”, Chemistry of Materials, vol. 30. pp. 3648-3655, 2018.


W. G. Chen, Witten, J., Grindy, S. C., Holten-Andersen, N., and Ribbeck, K., “Charge Influences Substrate Recognition and Self-Assembly of Hydrophobic FG Sequences”, Biophysical Journal, vol. 113. pp. 2088-2099, 2017.
B. S. Chapman, Wu, W. -C., Li, Q., Holten-Andersen, N., and Tracy, J. B., “Heteroaggregation Approach for Depositing Magnetite Nanoparticles onto Silica-Overcoated Gold Nanorods”, Chemistry of Materials, vol. 29. pp. 10362-10368, 2017.
A. U. Regitsky, Keshavarz, B., McKinley, G. H., and Holten-Andersen, N., “Rheology as a Mechanoscopic Method to Monitor Mineralization in Hydrogels”, Biomacromolecules, vol. 18. pp. 4067-4074, 2017.
S. C. Grindy and Holten-Andersen, N., “Bio-inspired metal-coordinate hydrogels with programmable viscoelastic material functions controlled by longwave UV light”, Soft Matter, vol. 13. pp. 4057-4065, 2017.


S. C. Grindy, Lenz, M., and Holten-Andersen, N., “Engineering Elasticity and Relaxation Time in Metal-Coordinate Cross-Linked Hydrogels”, Macromolecules, vol. 49. pp. 8306-8312, 2016.
D. Mozhdehi et al., “Tuning Dynamic Mechanical Response in Metallopolymer Networks through Simultaneous Control of Structural and Temporal Properties of the Networks”, Macromolecules, vol. 49. pp. 6310-6321, 2016.
Q. Li, Barrett, D. G., Messersmith, P. B., and Holten-Andersen, N., “Controlling Hydrogel Mechanics via Bio-Inspired Polymer-Nanoparticle Bond Dynamics.”, ACS nano, vol. 10. pp. 1317-24, 2016.


S. C. Grindy et al., “Control of hierarchical polymer mechanics with bioinspired metal-coordination dynamics”, Nature Materials, vol. 14. pp. 1210-1216, 2015.
P. Chen, Li, Q., Grindy, S., and Holten-Andersen, N., “White-Light-Emitting Lanthanide Metalloge\textquoterights with Tunable Luminescence and Reversible Stimuli-Responsive Properties”, Journal of the American Chemical Society, vol. 137. pp. 11590-11593, 2015.
P. Chen and Holten-Andersen, N., “Multistimuli-responsive White Luminescent Fluids Using Hybrid Lanthanide Metal-Coordinate Complex Probes”, Advanced Optical Materials, vol. 3. pp. 1041-1046, 2015.
K. Kawamoto, Grindy, S. C., Liu, J., Holten-Andersen, N., and Johnson, J. A., “Dual Role for 1,2,4,5-Tetrazines in Polymer Networks: Combining Diels-Alder Reactions and Metal Coordination To Generate Functional Supramolecular Gels”, ACS Macro Letters, vol. 4. pp. 458-461, 2015.


M. J. Glassman, Li, Q., Holten-Andersen, N., and Olsen, B. D., “Engineering network associations for control of responsive reinforcement in nanostructured physical hydrogels”, Abstracts of Papers of the American Chemical Society, vol. 247. 2014.
N. Holten-Andersen et al., “Metal-coordination: using one of nature's tricks to control soft material mechanics”, Journal of Materials Chemistry B, vol. 2. pp. 2467-2472, 2014.


D. G. Barrett, Fullenkamp, D. E., He, L., Holten-Andersen, N., Lee, K. Y. C., and Messersmith, P. B., “pH-Based Regulation of Hydrogel Mechanical Properties Through Mussel-Inspired Chemistry and Processing”, Advanced Functional Materials, vol. 23. pp. 1111-1119, 2013.


N. Holten-Andersen et al., “KL4 Peptide Induces Reversible Collapse Structures on Multiple Length Scales in Model Lung Surfactant”, Biophysical Journal, vol. 101. pp. 2957-2965, 2011.
D. G. Barrett, Fullenkamp, D. E., Holten-Andersen, N., Lee, K. Y. C., and Messersmith, P. B., “Novel hydrogels based on covalent and coordination-based cross-linking of catechols induced by Fe3+”, Abstracts of Papers of the American Chemical Society, vol. 242. 2011.
N. Holten-Andersen et al., “pH-induced metal-ligand cross-links inspired by mussel yield self-healing polymer networks with near-covalent elastic moduli”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 108. pp. 2651-2655, 2011.
K. D. Cao et al., “In situ Monitoring of Structural Changes in Model Membranes upon Cholesterol Depletion via X-ray Diffraction”, Biophysical Journal, vol. 100. pp. 625-625, 2011.
N. Holten-Andersen, Miller, P. W., Waring, A. J., Walther, F. J., and Lee, K. Y. C., “Lung Surfactant Peptide-Mimic KL4 Improves Reversibility of Synthetic Model Lung Surfactant Collapse Behavior”, Biophysical Journal, vol. 100. pp. 524-525, 2011.


M. J. Harrington, Masic, A., Holten-Andersen, N., Waite, H., and Fratzl, P., “Iron-Clad Fibers: A Metal-Based Biological Strategy for Hard Flexible Coatings”, Science, vol. 328. pp. 216-220, 2010.
N. Holten-Andersen, Lee, B. P., Messersmith, P. B., Waite, J. H., and Lee, K. Y. C., “Mussel-Inspired Self-Healing Hydrogels”, Biophysical Journal, vol. 98. p. 604A - 604A, 2010.


N. Holten-Andersen, Zhao, H., and Waite, H., “Stiff Coatings on Compliant Biofibers: The Cuticle of Mytilus californianus Byssal Threads”, Biochemistry, vol. 48. pp. 2752-2759, 2009.
N. Holten-Andersen, Mates, T. E., Toprak, M. S., Stucky, G. D., Zok, F. W., and Waite, H., “Metals and the Integrity of a Biological Coating: The Cuticle of Mussel Byssus”, Langmuir, vol. 25. pp. 3323-3326, 2009.
L. M. Bronstein, Ivanovskaya, A., Mates, T., Holten-Andersen, N., and Stucky, G. D., “Bioinspired Gradient Materials via Blending of Polymer Electrolytes and Applying Electric Forces”, Journal of Physical Chemistry B, vol. 113. pp. 647-655, 2009.
L. Pocivavsek, Leahy, B., Holten-Andersen, N., Lin, B., Lee, K. Y. C., and Cerda, E., “Geometric tools for complex interfaces: from lung surfactant to the mussel byssus”, Soft Matter, vol. 5. pp. 1963-1968, 2009.


A. Srivastava, Holten-Andersen, N., Stucky, G. D., and Waite, H., “Ragworm Jaw-Inspired Metal Ion Cross-Linking for Improved Mechanical Properties of Polymer Blends”, Biomacromolecules, vol. 9. pp. 2873-2880, 2008.
N. Holten-Andersen and Waite, J. H., “Mussel-designed protective coatings for compliant substrates”, Journal of Dental Research, vol. 87. pp. 701-709, 2008.


N. Holten-Andersen, Fantner, G. E., Hohlbauch, S., Waite, H., and Zok, F. W., “Protective coatings on extensible biofibres”, Nature Materials, vol. 6. pp. 669-672, 2007.
Q. Lin et al., “Adhesion mechanisms of the mussel foot proteins mfp-1 and mfp-3”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 104. pp. 3782-3786, 2007.


G. E. Fantner et al., “Components for high speed atomic force microscopy”, Ultramicroscopy, vol. 106. pp. 881-887, 2006.


N. Holten-Andersen, Slack, N., Zok, F., and Waite, J. H., “Nano-mechanical investigation of the byssal cuticle, a protective coating of a bio-elastomer”, in Fundamentals of Nanoindentation and Nanotribology III, vol. 841, 2005, pp. 111-116.