Rowland Junior Fellows Alumni

Rowland Junior Fellows 10th anniversary

  • David Cox - Harvard University
    Humans recognize visual objects with such ease that it is easy to overlook what an impressive computational feat this represents. Any given object in the world can cast an effectively infinite number of different images onto the retina, depending on its position relative to the viewer, the configuration of light sources, and the presence of other objects in the visual field. In spite of this extreme variation, biological visual systems are able to effortlessly recognize at least hundreds of thousands of distinct object classes—a feat that no current artificial system can come close to achieving. Our laboratory seeks to understand the neuronal mechanisms that enable this ability by reverse engineering simple biological visual systems. It is our hope that this work leads to a greater understanding of how our own brain works and to the construction of improved artificial visual systems.
  • Ben deBivort - Harvard University
    The animal kingdom contains staggering morphological diversity, but even greater variety is manifest in animal behavior. All animals display species-specific ecological behaviors and behavior alone can distinguish species that are otherwise morphologically identical. Moreover, evolution and behavior exert reciprocal influences on each other - while evolution can diversify behavior, behavior can constrain the evolution of species. The goal of our lab is to understand the neurobiological mechanisms of ecologically and evolutionarily relevant behaviors using techniques drawn from circuit-driven neuroscience, comparative genomics, and ethology, as they are manifested in fruit flies from the genus Drosophila.
  • Zvonimir Dogic - Rowland | Brandeis University
    Complex Fluids and Condensed Matter
    The objective of our research is to understand and control the self-assembly of matter on a colloidal length scale. The basic building blocks used are colloids of chemical or biological origin with well controlled spherical or rod-like shape and polymers with varying persistence length. The interactions between these components are well understood and can be modified in systematic ways. Despite the simplicity of these building blocks, they assemble into a variety of novel structures with unexpected complexity, e.g. 2D smectic phases, colloidal membranes, twisted chiral ribbons, and lamellar and columnar phases. These processes of self-assembly are under thermodynamic control and we use statistical mechanics to understand the final equilibrium structures. In the future we intend to study the assembly, phase transitions and dynamics of colloidal systems under non-equilibrium conditions
  • Peer Fischer - Rowland | Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems
    Symmetry and Chirality
    Our research focuses on the interaction of molecules with optical, magnetic, and electric fields. We are interested in a diverse spectrum of phenomena, ranging from light-matter interactions to electromagnetic forces. A specific aim is to develop new experimental methods and instrumentation for the detection of molecules and the separation of enantiomers.
  • SJ Claire Hur - µFluidic Biophysics Lab
    Biophysics and Microfluidics

    Single-cell deformability has been recently identified as a critical biomarker for various diseases and it varies considerably based on phenotypes. Current cell deformability measurement techniques, however, are inherently low throughput for statistical analysis of large heterogeneous biological samples. We focus on developing high-throughput microfluidic techniques for measuring intrinsic properties of single cells, including intracellular viscosity, membrane tension/elasticity and Young's modulus. These measurements will allow us to identify potential genetic-alterations and phenotype-changes, responsible for modification in such properties of cells. Furthermore, systematic determination of single-cell mechanical properties in a rapid and standardized manner will expedite an adoption of aforementioned properties as new types of biomarkers for phenotype characterizations. These newly revealed biomarkers should provide efficient tools for determining the cell state and phenotype, which are potentially useful for cancer diagnostics and prognostics, cell-based therapeutics as well as developmental biology.

  • Kristin Lewis - Rowland | Volpe National Transportation System Center
    Ecology and Botany
    Parasitic angiosperms are unusual among parasitic organisms in that they and their hosts are in the same order and are very similar physiologically. The comparable physiology of parasite and host enables the parasite to create direct connections with host-plant conductive tissues and cells. Additionally, the host and parasite are influenced by similar endogenous and exogenous physiological cues. We are interested in what kinds of information can be shared across the host-parasite boundary and how this affects both plants' responses to environmental conditions. Our research focuses on the use of novel methodology to track transfer of resources and signaling molecules between host and parasite.
  • Jiwoong Park - Rowland Cornell University
    Nanoelectronics and Nanosensors
    The electrical conductance of many nanoscale materials is strongly affected by a local electrostatic and electrochemical environment. This unique property can be utilized to build a nanosensor whose spatial resolution is comparable to the size of the sensor itself. The objective of our research is to investigate the electron transport properties of various nanoscale materials, including carbon nanotubes, semiconducting nanowires and single molecules, and to develop nanoscale sensors based on them.
  • Chris Richards - Rowland | Royal Veterinary College, UK
    My lab explores how muscles move limbs to power swimming. Muscle is a spectacularly efficient and powerful motor which drives behaviors that impress biologists and engineers alike. How do aquatic animals accelerate rapidly or maneuver precisely at high swimming speeds? Intuition tells us that high performance swimming, such as prey capture or escaping, demands high muscle power. However, we cannot often predict the muscle power required for a given swimming task. Moreover, we do not fully understand how nerves communicate with muscles to achieve the exquisite control of swimming performance seen in nature. My lab seeks to understand the physiological basis for how nature's swimming machines (e.g. frogs, fish, aquatic insects) solve the difficult engineering problem of moving rapidly through water.
  • Ozgur Sahin - Rowland | Columbia University
    Nanomechanical Sensing
    At the molecular level, physical and chemical properties of materials are tightly coupled to the mechanical properties. The potential of mechanics for interacting with matter at the nanoscale has been largely unexplored due to lack of instruments capable of performing mechanical measurements at nanometer length scales. Our research focuses on developing tools and techniques to perform nanomechanical measurements and applying them to problems in materials science, cell biology, and molecular biology.
  • Alvaro Sanchez Yale University
    Ecology and Evolution
    Microbes are social organisms that are most commonly found forming complex ecological communities. Every species in a community is typically represented by large numbers of cells which may also differ in their individual behaviors. A fascinating fact is that the individual behavior of a microbial cell often depends on what the other cells in their vicinity are doing; much like animals do, microbes implement social strategies. Not having a central nervous system to help them make decisions, bacteria adopt these social strategies as alternative phenotypes, encoded in their DNA sequences and governed by biochemical and gene regulatory circuits. Evolutionary changes in these "decision-making circuits" will therefore affect ecological interactions between species and are an essential component of microbial communities. Our lab is interested in shedding some light into this rather complex system, and understanding the relationship between the evolution of microbial behavior and microbial ecology. For instance, we ask questions such as: How is the social behavior of microbes encoded in their DNA? How does the behavior of individuals from one species affect the behavior of other species in the community? Can we describe these interactions quantitatively? How does the structure of microbial communities affect the evolution of social traits? Can we quantitatively map complex microbial interaction networks and predict their community dynamics? In order to tackle these questions, we use a combination of biophysical tools (in order to grow large numbers of cultures in parallel and help us determine the frequencies of different species in these communities), mathematical and computational modeling (to help us generate quantitative hypotheses and understand our data) and systems and synthetic biology (in order to engineer cells with pre-determined social behaviors and to assemble communities in vitro).
  • Yuki Sato - Rowland
    Applied Matter & Devices
    One of the overarching themes of our research is the investigations and applications of quantum coherent matter. In superconductors, superfluids, and Bose-Einstein condensates, a large fraction of constituent particles can occupy the same quantum ground state and behave in many ways as a single entity. We are interested in not only studying fascinating properties of such state of matter but also applying them as a set of tools to elucidate some subtleties of the quantum world. With disregard for presumed boundaries between applied physics, material science, and engineering, we also develop metamaterials and devices whose novel properties do not naturally exist in nature. Our current interests include superfluid and superconducting Josephson phenomena, nano/micro/meta-materials & devices, inertial sensing technologies, matter wave interferometry, and force/displacement sensing limits.
  • Ethan Schonbrun - Optofluidic Cytometry Lab
    Biophysics and Microfluidics

    Our group develops optical technologies for capturing 2D, 3D and hyperspectral images of cells in fast moving fluids.  These systems exploit spectral, angular and polarization degrees of freedom in the optical signal, as well as recent advances in microoptics, high speed light sources and cameras. In addition to spatial and spectral information, we are also interested in performing quantitative measurements of other physical characteristics of cells, such as volume, protein mass, and oxygen tension.  Resolving the distribution of various measurable parameters enables better understanding of subtle differences in the response of each cell to its environment. We are currently using these measurements to differentiate pathological blood cells and to study the life cycle and kinetics of immune cells.

  • Andrew Speck - Rowland
    Ultracold Rydberg Atoms and Terahertz Spectroscopy
    The objective of our research is to study the interaction of highly excited, or Rydberg atoms, with unipolar terahertz electromagnetic pulses (half cycle pulses). These systems provide a fascinating regime in which to explore atomic states which exhibit both classical and quantum properties. The first series of experiments in my group will explore the interaction of a train of these pulses with Rydberg atoms. Further research will include the study of the magnetic properties of the half cycle pulse and their effect on atomic systems.
  • Rachel Spicer - Rowland | Connecticut College
    Plant Meristems Group
    Plants are able to regenerate whole body parts like roots and shoots with relative ease because they demonstrate amazing cellular plasticity. Masters of dedifferentiation, plants not only retain pools of stem cells throughout their lives, but also create new stem cells in response to developmental and environmental cues. My primary interest is in the role of parenchyma cells in shaping large woody plants - namely, through their ability to dedifferentiate and generate new meristems in response to wounding, and during the transition to secondary growth. I'm interested in developing molecular and microscopy techniques to study secondary growth, including methods to image live cells in woody tissue.
  • Frank Vollmer - Rowland | Max Planck Institute
    Biofunctional Photonics
    We are interested in design and fabrication of photonic structures and circuits that interface, probe and manipulate biological systems with single molecule sensitivity. To reach this objective, light-matter interaction can be sufficiently enhanced by photon recirculation in micro- and nano-scale cavities that offer ultimate Q and record-low modal volume. Once established, the technique can help elucidate recognition, interaction and transformation of label-free biomolecules, the interplay of which give rise to various complex functions and networks that have evolved in the cell. Furthermore, access to a vast repertoire of functionality by self-assembly of purified or genetically altered biological components provides exciting opportunity for engineering of molecular-photonic device architecture.
  • Laurence Wilson - University of York, UK
    We are interested in understanding bacterial motility, particularly relating to the formation and propagation of biofilms. Most studies to date have focused either on macroscopic phenomena (for example, the size of colonies growing on agar plates) or on microscopic, single cell measurements. Our work focuses on the behavior of E. coli, using newly developed image processing algorithms to assess motility in much larger groups of individuals (typically around 10,000 at a time) than previously possible. We use high-throughput Fourier-space techniques, allowing the study of motility over a range of length scales from 1 micrometer to 1 millimeter, and timescales from one millisecond to several hours.
  • Wesley Wong -Rowland | Immune Disease Institute,  Harvard Medical School Affiliate
    Biophysics
    We are interested in how biological systems work at the nanoscale, and the physical laws that govern their behavior. Our focus is on weak, thermally mediated interactions between and within biological molecules (e.g. base-pairing in nucleic acids, receptor-ligand bonding, protein folding, etc.), and the coupling of these interactions to mechanical force. We are currently developing and applying new techniques, based on optical tweezers and high-resolution optical detection, to study the mechanics and force-driven kinetics of single-molecules.