Current research

Rowland Junior Fellows

Host Microbe and Toxicity Group - Robert M. Brucker  (microbial evolution and toxicology)  
The focus of the Brucker lab is on interactions of environmental toxins metabolized by the gut microbiome. We utilize natural product chemistry, ecotoxicology, population genetics, evolution, and experimental microbiota to test hypotheses on the interaction between microbiota of the gut and environmental toxins consumed by the host animal. We are particularly interested in how acute and long-term exposure to environmental toxins, such as pesticides, can cause changes to the microbiota population of the gut in both structure and function.


Cold Ion Spectroscopy Lab - Alessandra Ferzoco - (chemistry)
Reactions useful for the conversion of light energy into chemical energy are often complex because they require multiple charge transfer steps. Coupling electron and proton transfer facilitates these reactions by avoiding the high-energy intermediates found if electrons and protons are transferred individually and by enabling multiple charge transfer steps at one location. Our lab seeks to understand the types of chemical structures and environments that promote concerted electron/proton transfer by studying how ion structure changes in going from the ground state to electronically excited states. To accomplish these studies our lab works at the intersection between mass spectrometry and laser spectroscopy. We develop custom instrumentation to generate and trap ions and ion-molecule complexes, control their temperature, and then interrogate them by various types of spectroscopy.


µFluidic Biophysics Lab - SJ Claire Hur - (biomedical engineering)
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.


RoLi Lab - Jennifer Li  - (systems and behavioral neuroscience)
The ability to adjust one’s actions based on past experience (learning) and retain the value of past actions (memory) is one of the most complex, fascinating, and mysterious processes mediated by the animal brain. Fundamental questions remain about the precise contribution of individual neurons to learning, as well as the nature and complexity of interactions across neural circuits implicated in learning. Our lab aims to address these questions by recording and manipulating activity throughout an entire vertebrate brain while an animal actively engages in exploration and learning. Using the latest advances in optogenetics and microscopy, we will identify and selectively manipulate the neural circuitry that underlies learning in larval zebrafish, as well as develop novel high throughput learning paradigms for pharmacological and genetic screening.


Nanoscale Sensors and Systems - Qimin Quan - (applied physics and nanotechnology)
Our lab seeks to understand novel optical phenomena in nanoscale structures and apply these novel phenomena to build functional devices. Optical cavities and nanostructures provide powerful means for modifying the interactions between light and matter, and have many exciting applications from quantum communications to sensors. We are interested in developing high-sensitivity, high-throughput biomedical sensors towards the realization of a portable instrument. We are also interested in combining the light manipulation method with functional materials, such as polymers and carbon nanotubes to realize new functions.


RoLi Lab - Drew Robson  -  (neuroscience - microscope design and optogenetics)
Optogenetic tools are currently revolutionizing the field of systems neuroscience. To take advantage of these tools, our lab is developing novel imaging systems and computational frameworks to flexibly address neurons throughout an entire vertebrate brain. Using techniques such as multi-photon microscopy, selective plane illumination microscopy (SPIM), and optogenetics, we will dissect the interaction between neural networks in larval zebrafish. Specifically, we are interested in the neural circuitry that underlies reinforcement learning. The techniques that we are developing will make it possible to rigorously test the involvement of multiple classes of reinforcement signals, clarify their interdependence, and raise new hypotheses about the organization of reinforcement circuitry in a vertebrate brain.


Microbial Biophysics and Systems Biology Lab- Alvaro Sanchez - (biophysics)
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).


Optofluidics Cytometry Group - Ethan Schonbrun - (physics)
In biotechnology and medical diagnostics there is a large demand for the analysis of enormous sets of samples. Optical detection systems such as micro-array scanners, flow cytometers, and fluorescence microscopes are the standard work horse instrumentation for these applications. While these systems have proven successful, they are frequently based on the frame of a standard optical microscope which has tradeoffs in field of view, resolution, and light collection. By designing optical systems using a priori knowledge of the sample, many of these tradeoffs can be circumvented. In the Optofluidics Cytometry lab, we will investigate optical detection systems based on microfabricated components, such as lens arrays, computer generated holograms, and artificial dielectrics. By integrating these components with microfluidics and high speed cameras, we hope to realize a new generation of optical diagnostic devices.



Rowland Senior Fellows

Trapped Ion Dynamics - Joel Parks – (physics)
Electron diffraction measurements of isolated, single sized clusters stored in ion traps is being applied to the study of small (n ~10-50 atoms) metal clusters including Aun and Agn. These measurements are directed to better understand and exploit the dependence of catalytic reactivity on cluster structure and temperature. Sensitive methods developed to measure laser-induced fluorescence from <10 trapped ions are being applied to study the dynamics of DNA in gas phase. Temperature dependent measurements demonstrate these methods will be useful to characterize conformational change in gas phase biomolecules. Sequential loss of electrons from trapped DNA anions has been observed for the first time and experiments suggest DNA conformations may be a determining factor.



Staff Scientists

Associate Director for Science - Michael Burns – (physics)
Over the years I've participated in a number of, to me, fascinating projects. I have found no particular common thread other than simple curiosity coupled with an opportunity to indulge that curiosity, and equally curious colleagues. Some of the current and past projects are described herein.


Electronics Engineering - Winfield Hill – (technology)
The Electronics Engineering Laboratory pursues R & D projects that push the envelope of scientific instrumentation. We do this by applying technologies from diverse fields to create unique instruments, and by learning and applying advanced circuit-design knowledge to endow otherwise common-place instruments with superior performance.


Biophysical Sciences - Diane Schaak – (biophysics)

Computation - Alan Stern – (mathematics)

Laboratory Engineer - John Chervinsky  – (engineering) 

Instrumentation development - Chris Stokes  – (electronics engineering)

Bacterial motility - Linda Turner Stern  – (microbiology)


Affiliated Harvard Faculty

Bacterial Motility and Behavior - Howard Berg – (biophysics)
The Berg lab at Rowland is a branch of Howard Berg's lab at the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology on the main Harvard campus. It investigates bacterial motility and chemotaxis using video, fluorescence, and electron microscopy. The chief target of research is the bacterium Escherichia coli, with topics ranging from the hydrodynamics of swimming with flagella to a phenomenological description of chemotactic movement to studies of the biochemical networks that allow E. coli to perform chemotaxis. Recent work includes imaging of pili-mediated twitching motility in Pseudomonas aeruginosa, high-speed video imaging of flagellar filaments during E. coli tumbling, and the creation of a Serratia marcescens 'bacterial carpet' that mixes and pumps liquid inside microfluidic channels.


Scanning Tunneling Microscopy Group - Venky Narayanamurti – (physics)
Research within the Narayanamurti Group is directed at the physics of hot electron- and hole- transport in novel semiconductor electronic materials and devices. A key goal is to study quantum confinement effects in nanostructures. The group interacts with similar electronic materials efforts at other universities, government, and industrial research laboratories.


Oxides Research Group - Shriram Ramanathan – (materials science)
Research in our group is primarily focused on oxide thin films and nanostructures with emphasis on understanding how processing affects properties. Research activities include developing mechanistic understanding of initial stages of oxidation of metals and oxygen incorporation into oxides under photon irradiation. Phase evolution in oxides and their stability as a function of temperature and doping is investigated using combination of structural, electrical and electrochemical studies. Quantitative determination of oxygen concentration in nanoscale oxides and research on techniques to precisely control oxygen stoichiometry at interfaces are also being actively pursued. Potential applications of our research include electronic devices, solar and hydrogen energy conversion, sensors.


 Director of Science - Cynthia Friend– (chemistry)
 My current research is focused on developing solutions to important problems in energy usage and environmental chemistry.  The two major facets of my work are (1) design and development of new processes for sustainable and efficient chemical synthesis using alloy catalysts as a means of reducing dependence on fossil fuel resources; and, (2) investigation of new semiconductor materials for light-induced reactions, including water splitting and degradation of organic pollutants.