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Biological Physics

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Research

We focus on solving key intellectual and practical problems in the physics of biological systems and the underlying properties of soft matter, from intramolecular to cellular length scales, using experimental, computational and theoretical methods. Our investigators' research can broadly be categorised via the following techniques and research areas.

Fluorescence microscopy

Fluorescence microscopy
Angus Bain works on the development of advanced fluorescence microscopy techniques, such as fluorescence life-time imaging, Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET), and super-resolution (stimulated emission depletion, STED) microscopy. The use of these in his lab has helped, for example, to track the phosporylation of key proteins (NADH) in the cellular energy metabolism and to investigate conformational dynamics of tumor suppressors.

 

Probing molecular interactions in living cells

Probing molecular interactions in living cells
Combined with fluorescence microscopy, optical and magnetic tweezers provide powerful tools for manipulating and characterising forces in fundamental biological studies at the single molecule level and in real time in live cells. Isabel Llorente-Garcia applies single-molecule approaches to study the activity of cell-surface receptor molecules, such as those that are key to cancer growth, immune response and viral infection.

 

X-ray diffraction for probing biological structure

X-ray diffraction for probing biological structure
Ian Robinson develops and applies new methods based on coherent X-ray diffraction using synchrotron radiation. Besides an extensive programme in solid-state physics, he uses X-rays for probing biological structures, ranging from collagen fibrils to the metaphase human chromosome.

 

Cell Morphogenesis

Cell Morphogenesis
Buzz Baum's research is interested in the generation of biological form. Since the shape and internal organisation of each cell is determined by a combination of physics, biochemistry and information processing, we use a wide range of techniques to address the problem, including molecular biology, genetics, high-content RNA interference (RNAi) screening, live cell imaging, microfabrication, biophysical techniques and computational modelling. 

 

Electron/proton transfer and small-molecule transport in proteins

Electron/proton transfer and small-molecule transport in proteins
Electron transfer is a common chemical reaction in catalytic processes such as light-energy harvesting; proton transfer is the most frequently occurring chemical reaction in biological systems; and small-molecule transport essential in lung function. These processes have in common that they can be addressed by atomic to molecular scale computational modelling, carried out by Jochen Blumberger.

 

Functional and pathological biological assembly

Functional and pathological biological assembly
The assembly of macromolecules into controlled nano- and mesoscale architectures generates the molecular machinery of life. Uncontrolled assembly, on the other hand, is involved in severe diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. Andela Saric uses computer simulations and soft matter physics to study the assembly of biological systems. Examples include functional and pathological protein aggregation, membrane trafficking, and pathways of pathogen infection.

 

Theoretical physics of biology

Theoretical physics of biology
Biological systems rely on physical processes to organise themselves in space. Using methods from soft matter physics and non-linear dynamics, Guillaume Salbreux develops theoretical descriptions of cell and tissue morphogenetic processes, such as cell division, cell migration or tissue flows and deformations occurring during embryonic development.

Optical tweezers

Optical tweezers
Optical tweezers enable us to trap micro- to nanoscale objects with picoNewton forces, with the particular advantage – for biological sciences – that this can be done in aqueous solution. Phil Jones uses optical tweezers for a range of experiments on colloidal, soft-matter and biological systems including, for example, elasticity measurements on cell membranes.

 

Atomic force microscopy for nanoscale biophysics

Atomic force microscopy for nanoscale biophysics
Atomic force microscopy (AFM) is a unique tool to for the nanometre-scale visualisation of biomolecules in action. Bart Hoogenboom uses high-resolution AFM in aqueous solution, combined with other experimental and theoretical biophysical approaches, for the study of protein/peptide dynamics and assembly (e.g., for membrane pore formation); of transport selectivity in the nuclear pore complex; and of the various structures that can be adopted by DNA.

 

Nanoparticle synthesis and biofunctionalisation

Nanoparticle synthesis and biofunctionalisation
Nanoparticles can provide a handle for tracking, imaging, and manipulating cells and tissues, with potential applications for the diagnosis and treatment of cancers. Thanh Nguyen is a specialist on the synthesis and functionalisation of various types of nanoparticles for biomedical applications.

 

Mechanics and shape of cells and cell monolayers

Mechanics and shape of cells and cell monolayers
Guillaume Charras’s research focuses on mechanics and shape formation at the level of the submembranous actin cortex in individual cells, as well as at the level of ensembles of cells in tissue-mimicking cell monolayers. To this end, he uses techniques such as force microscopy and spectroscopy, optical microscopy, electron microscopy, and optogenetics.

 

Quantum biology

Quantum biology
It is well known that quantum mechanics explains the structure and stability of the biomolecules. What remains unknown is whether there are quantum coherent dynamics that are relevant for their biological functionality. Alexandra Olaya-Castro develops quantum mechanical approaches to photosynthetic complexes, electronic and vibrational dynamics in biomolecules, charge and exciton transfer processes, and thermodynamics of biomolecular processes.

 

Physics of organismic and cellular soft matter

Physics of organismic and cellular soft matter
Living cells and organisms form a novel class of soft materials that can autonomously generate forces, change shapes, grow, self-replicate and self-heal under applied stress. Shiladitya Banerjee integrates methods from statistical physics, soft matter mechanics and computer simulations to develop theoretical models of biological behaviour from molecular to organismic scales, in close collaboration with experimentalists.

 

Mechanobiology and Biophysics

Molodtsov Research
In order to grow and divide cells need to organize themselves in space and time. Intracellular rearrangements are driven by combination of motor and non-motor proteins that generate and respond to mechanical forces. Maxim Molodtsov uses single-molecule microscopy, force spectroscopy and develops new tools to investigate how mechanical activities of multiple molecules are coordinated to achieve complex cellular organisation.