Prof Bart Hoogenboom
Professor of Biophysics
Dept of Physics & Astronomy
Faculty of Maths & Physical Sciences
- Joined UCL
- 1st Oct 2007
I have a broad interest in the application of physical methods to understand biological phenomena at the scale of single molecules and molecular assemblies. Over the recent years, my research has increasingly focussed on molecular-scale mechanisms that are relevant for how pathogens (e.g., bugs, viruses) interact with their hosts (e.g., the human body).
My lab uses a range of methods, mostly experimental but also theoretical/computational. We are particularly keen on microscopic methods that enable us to probe and image single (or few) biomolecules under conditions that are near to those in a living cell, to thus observe biomolecules at work. Historically, our key expertise has been in atomic force microscopy (AFM). Using an extremely sharp tip, AFM allows us to scan a surface just like a blind person's fingertip reading Braille, “touching” and “feeling” single molecules and/or atoms. In addition, we explore other types of microscopy such as single-molecule fluorescence and electron microscopy.
Research topics in my lab include bacterial toxins and immune effectors that operate by punching holes into target membranes; antimicrobial peptides that can degrade bacterial membranes via a range of different mechanisms; transport (e.g., of viruses) into and out of the cell nucleus via the nuclear pore complex; DNA (super)structure and how it affects gene regulation; and single-molecule interactions of relevance for the function of pharmaceutical drugs.
A common element in all our research projects is that we combine our expertise in biophysics and nanotechnology with complementary and often very inspiring input from collaborators in other disciplines (mostly life sciences).
Beside lab demonstrations, problem solving tutorials and research student supervision, I designed and lectured the MSci and graduate course Molecular Biophysics (2009/2010 – 2013/2014), and lectured the first-year course Waves, Optics and Acoustics (2014/2015 – 2017/2018).
Since 2019/2020, I lecture the second-year course Statistical Physics of Matter.
Every summer, I lecture on the mechanics of molecules and biological structures at the European School On Nanosciences & Nanotechnologies (Grenoble, since 2012), and I regularly give introductory lectures and trainings on atomic force microscopy.
In 2016, 2017 and 2020, I was nominated for the Student Choice Teaching Award at UCL.
- Universite de Geneve
- Doctorate, Doctor of Philosophy | 2002
- Rijksuniversiteit Groningen
- Other higher degree, Master of Science | 1997
Bart Hoogenboom graduated in physics at the University of Groningen, including a research project on C60 (“buckyballs”) under supervision of Profs Hao Tjeng and George Sawatzky.
Following an internship at the European Synchroton Radiation Facility in Grenoble, he did his PhD research on high-temperature superconductivity, mostly using scanning tunnelling microscopy and spectroscopy, in Prof. Øystein Fischer’s lab in Geneva. At the end of his PhD, he was awarded the Prix Walthard of the University of Geneva, for excellence in both academia and sports (middle-distance running).
He then moved to Basel for postdoctoral research with Profs Hans Hug and Andreas Engel, mostly focussing on instrument development. This resulted in some of the (at that time) highest resolution atomic force microscopy images of surfaces in aqueous solution, in particular obtaining atomic resolution on mica and resolving single ion channels (VDACs) and their assemblies in mitochondrial outer membranes.
After setting up his own lab at UCL in 2007, this research has led to the first visualisation of the DNA double helix and structural variations thereof in solution; the development of novel nanomechanical and computational approaches to understand the physics of transport selectivity into and out of the cell nucleus via nuclear pore complexes; the understanding of membrane disruption by various natural and engineered antimicrobial peptides and by pore forming proteins employed both by bacteria and by the vertebrate immune system, which has in part involved high-resolution AFM imaging of live bacteria. In 2017, he was awarded the Scanning Probe Microscopy medal by the Royal Microscopical Society for his research using AFM in biology.