One of the central mysteries of living systems is how they can perform complex functions on large scales despite being intrinsically disordered on microscopic scales. This interplay is a two-way street: individual cells develop and maintain the form of the collective, and collective properties in turn feed back onto the behavior of individual cells. To better understand how mechanical information can flow between local and global scales in this manner, I work closely with experimentalists and theorists to develop simple models of complex biological architectures.




Mechanosensing in disordered fiber networks

    Certain types of eukaryotic cells, including human cells, can actively probe and respond to the stiffness of their surroundings. What can a cell learn about its tissue scaffolding by pulling on nearby fibers?


        I modeled the tissue matrix as an elastic network that deforms in response to external forces. This mechanical model helped identify "intelligent" strategies that cells can use to discern tissue identity.





Architectural transitions in bacterial biofilms

    Biofilms are groups of bacteria that adhere to and grow on surfaces. Recent advances in imaging technology showed that within a colony, cells are not arranged randomly, but instead grow into spatially-patterned formations with striking geometrical order. How do simple bacteria self-organize into these complex structures?

    

    To understand how cell-scale interactions determine the form of the collective, I modeled bacteria as growing, sticky rods. This model helped me create theories that yielded quantitative insights into the structure, shape, and dimensionality of Vibrio cholerae biofilms.


Article in Nature Physics: