Biophysics / Soft Matter
Biophysics is an interdisciplinary science that uses the methods of physical science to study biological systems by applying the principles of physics and chemistry and the methods of mathematical analysis and computer modeling to understand how biological systems work.
This science seeks to explain biological function in terms of the molecular structures and properties of specific molecules. WPI researchers are making strides in molecular and multimolecular aspects of biophysics by fostering groups engaged in multidisciplinary research in this field.
Biophysics gives us medical imaging technologies including MRI scans, CAT scans, PET scans, and sonograms for diagnosing diseases. It provides the life-saving treatment methods of kidney dialysis, radiation therapy, cardiac deﬁbrillators, and pacemakers.
Biophysics Research Groups
- Germano Iannacchione’s group studies order-disorder phenomena in biomaterials. Using calorimetric, dielectric spectroscopic, and optical microscopy techniques, participants study the ordering and self-assembly of biomaterials such as proteins, DNA, and cholesterols. Current work is focused on understanding the elements controlling protein denaturing and folding dynamics, mesoscopic phase behavior of DNA segments, and self-assemblies of filament, tubule, and helical microstructures formed in cholesterol-based model-bile systems.
- Erkan Tüzel's group seeks to identify fundamental mechanisms in biology and emerging nanoscale physics, especially in areas where there is the potential for significant medical and industrial applications. Using theoretical and computational tools (in particular, coarse-grained modeling approaches) to provide insight into open problems in these interdisciplinary areas, the group has been shedding new light on such areas as the dynamics of biopolymers and their interactions with molecular motors, the development and applications of particle-based algorithms for complex fluids, and capillary waves in binary and ternary mixtures. Professor Tüzel works closely with Professor Luis Vidali (Biology and Biotechnology) in his explorations of these problems.
- Qi Wen's group is interested in studying the physics of living cells, particularly the mechanical properties of cell cytoskeleton and the mechanical interactions between cells and extracellular materials. He is leading the experimental biophysics laboratory at WPI's Life Sciences & Bioengineering Center. The research in his lab interfaces with physics, chemistry, nanotechnology, and biomedical engineering. The aim of the research is to understand the physical principles governing the transmission of force inside cells and the transduction of mechanical force into intracellular biochemical signals to regulate cellular functions.
The lab is equipped with a combination of cutting-edge biophysics tools such as fiber optical tweezers, traction force microscopy, and atomic force microscopy, for single cell and single molecule studies. Results from the research will guide the design of novel materials for wound healing, tissue engineering, and tumor treatment. Research in Professor Wen’s group is currently funded by the National Science Foundation. The group is accepting new graduate students, both PhD and master levels. Students with a strong interest in experimental biophysics, good communication skills, and some experimental background are strongly encouraged to apply.
Nuclear Science and Engineering Group
- Dave Medich’s group performs experimental and computational (Monte Carlo) research in the field of applied nuclear physics with a focus on medical and health physics. Presently he is developing a novel technique to enable high-resolution in vivo functional imaging using neutrons, researching localized intensity-modulated Yb-169 HDR brachytherapy, developing a field-deployable nuclear forensics device for radiological and topological characterization, and analyzing the time-dependent resuspension of radioactive Am-241 into the atmosphere.
Nanoscience, an interdisciplinary field that incorporates elements of physics, engineering, biotechnology, and chemistry, deals with structures that are very small in nature, generally those smaller than 100 nanometers—or about one ten-millionth of an inch. Nanoscience and nanotechnology involve the ability to see and to control these tiny, individual atoms that make up everything on Earth. The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the houses we live in, and even the human body, all consist of atoms.
But something as small as an atom is impossible to see with the naked eye—in fact, the atom is impossible to see with the typical microscope. Therefore, physicists generally have to invent the instrumentation they need to study things at the nanoscale. Once physicists developed the right tools, such as the scanning tunneling microscope (STM) and the atomic force microscope (AFM), the benefits of nanoscience research to society became very clear.
The potential applications of nanoscience research are considerable, affecting such areas as drug development, transportation, communication, and sustainable energy.