Physics of Life
Research in the Physics of Life seeks to unravel the physical principles underlying organization and functions in living systems. At UCSD Biophysics, we are at the forefront of this rapidly advancing discipline. Consistent with broad yet fundamental training, we use experimental, theoretical, and computational techniques to solve problems at the interface of physics and biology. We have a strong and diverse group of faculty, covering a wide range of biophysics research, including all major themes identified by the National Academies' first ever decadel survey on biological physics.
How do living systems represent and process information?
Trained in theoretical physics, Terence entered biology initially to study genomics, biomolecular interactions and combinatorial gene regulation. He subsequently launched a microbiology wet-lab and developed a unique quantitative approach to study bacterial physiology. In the 2010s, the Hwa lab established a number of bacterial growth laws and formulated a principle of proteomic resource allocation. The Hwa lab aims to uncover underlying principles governing the spatiotemporal dynamics of microbial communities, and to apply these principles to synthetic biology applications.
Prof. Jun was trained as a theoretical physicist. He started his lab as a Bauer Fellow at Harvard University in 2007, and transitioned to experimental quantitative biology. In 2012, he moved his lab to UCSD, significantly contributing to the institution's reputation as a leading force in the field. He has been an Allen Distinguished Investigator (2013), a Pew Scholar (2013), and a Scialog Fellow (2015); and honored with the NSF CAREER award (2013), the Lattimer Award (2019), and the Michael and Kate Bárány Award from the Biophysical Society (2022). New students and postdocs in Jun lab choose their projects on fundamental problems in quantitative cell physiology after extensive exploratory periods within a protected environment. See, also, Prof. Jun’s short Living Histories talk.
How do macroscopic functions of life emerge from microscopic interactions?
Nigel holds the Chancellor's Distinguished Professorship in Physics and joined UCSD in Fall 2021 after being at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign from 1985-2021. Nigel's research spans condensed matter theory, the theory of living systems, hydrodynamics and non-equilibrium statistical physics. In particular, Nigel is interested in how patterns evolve in time, focusing on emergent states of matter and work extensively to understand living systems.
Mattia earned his Ph.D. in Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos at ETH Zurich and was a Schmidt Science Fellow in Applied Mathematics at Harvard. The Serra group develops innovative mathematical methods and models to predict complex systems. Examples of our research range from the discovery of hidden attractors on the ocean surface, relevant for search and rescue operations and ocean cleanup, to the identification of self-organizing principles of embryonic development.
Tan lab's overarching vision is to understand how nonequilibrium forces lead to spatiotemporal organization in living matter, and in turn, how biological regulation harness this self-organizing capacity to make functional forms. By using a variety of model systems (including marine invertebrate embryos and mammalian organoids), the lab combines quantitative imaging, creative data analysis and collaboration with theorists to study the physical basis of biological organization.
What physics problems do organisms need to solve?
We search for the physical principles that unify seemingly unrelated phenomena of the living world. We strive to capture these unifying principles in the form of analytically tractable (pen-and-paper) theories that are broadly applicable and that generate concrete, experimentally testable predictions. With this approach, we have recently explored the spatiotemporal organization of chromosomes in the nucleus of a mammalian cell, the infection strategies of enveloped viruses, and the physics of memory and learning. We welcome curious and motivated graduate students in theoretical physics who would like to discuss the possibility of joining us in these endeavors.
The Koslover group is focused on physical modeling of dynamics and structure within eukaryotic cells. Many of the questions we address center on how cells manipulate and establish the architecture and distribution of their organelles as well as how organelle morphology modulates the transport of material throughout the cell. In particular we explore the structure-function relationship of extensive organelle systems such as the endoplasmic reticulum and mitochondrial networks. We use a combination of pencil-and-paper theoretical modeling, meso-scale computational simulations, and analysis of live-cell imaging data from collaborating groups to establish the key physical principles and parameters that govern intracellular processes.
Our lab uses computational, analytical, and experimental approaches to a variety of biological and biomedical problems. The goal of the research is to gain a better understanding of the fundamental mechanisms of the system. Areas of interest include eukaryotic cell migration, with a particular emphasis on chemotaxis, and cardiac arrhythmias.
We are interested in a variety of topics including viral DNA packaging in bacteriophages phi29, lambda, and T4, function of ATP-dependent molecular motors, single polymer dynamics (polymer physics, DNA properties, microrheology), chromatin assembly and structure, protein mediated DNA looping, DNA Unzipping and physics of knot formation. Our techniques include manipulation of single DNA molecules with Optical Tweezers, single DNA molecule imaging by fluorescence microscopy and molecular Biology and Biochemistry.
The Hueschen group wants to understand how parasitic cells and animals move, penetrate through tissue, and change shape. We use microscopy and other experimental approaches from cell and parasite biology, physical thinking, and mathematical models of self-organization. Current topics of interest include: the dynamics and patterning of cytoskeletal proteins inside parasitic cells like Toxoplasma and Plasmodium (malaria parasite); mechanisms of cell gliding motility; the mechanics of blood vessel penetration by parasites; and the mechanics of morphogenesis (shape change) in parasitic worms.
What can precision measurements reveal about biological functions?
The main area of research of our group is the development and application of new devices and techniques based on micro-flows and soft materials for cell biology and protein folding research. We collaborate with many bio-research laboratories in San Diego area and outside. Topics we are interested include chemotaxis and gradient response, microbial cultures in microchambers and perfusion chambers to study rolling, adhesion, migration of blood cells.
We are interested in how life controls its physical properties and how physical state impacts biological activity in sub-cellular and cellular level. Specifically, we are currently focusing on single-cell regulation of protein and lipid mass, volume, and density. We aim to understand the biological and biophysical nature of these controls at the single-cell level and utilize them to advance human health. For this aim, our lab utilize cutting-edge label-free optical microscopy tools including quantitative phase microscopy and nonlinear optical microscopy to explore these phenomenon in cells, small model organisms, and tissues.
Coffee room seminar
We are a group of students and postdocs interested in biological physics and quantitive biology. We get together once per month (last Friday of the month) in the "coffee room" on the 7th floor of Urey Hall. The meeting consists of an informal seminar (typically 15-30 minutes) followed by a discussion session with snacks and drinks. The official purpose is to foster cross-talks between research groups. The unofficial (real) purpose is enjoy a little break in good company, around a beer. If you are interested in giving a talk, please contact Aman Sharma or Sreejith Santhosh. Learn more here.
Alumni of UCSD Biophysics
Fangzhou Xiao, Postdoc 2023, Jun lab alumnus