A central mystery of life is how it can function despite being disordered on small scales. Cells develop and maintain the form of the collective, which in turn feeds back onto cell behavior. To better understand how information can flow between local and global scales in this manner, I work with experimentalists and theorists to develop simple models of complex biological architectures.

Stiffness sensing in fiber networks

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

    We modeled tissues as elastic networks that deform in response to external forces. This mechanical model helped me discover "intelligent" strategies that enable microscopic sensors 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 cells in biofilms grow into beautiful patterned formations. How do simple bacteria self-organize into complex structures?

    To understand how cell-scale interactions govern the form of the collective, we modeled bacteria as growing, sticky rods. Growing these rods in silico and quantifying experimental results with my verticalizing-fluid model elucidated the structure, shape, and dimensionality of Vibrio cholerae biofilms.

Article in Nature Physics:

Physical limits to sensing material properties

  A fundamental way of learning about a material is by observinhow it responds to stimuli. However, it is unclear what such probes can learn because all materials respond in messy ways. How much information is gleaned by probing a material?

    We bounded this information by studying a simple model of a sensor probing a continuous material. Our findings establish how to construct devices that sense near these bounds, e.g. for medical diagnostics.

Open access article in Nature Communications:

Genome maintenance during aging

    When a cell is born into the world, its protein factories are transcribed in parallel from hundreds of repeated genes. These delicate blueprints shed when the genome loops unto itself. What mechanism ensures that cells carry enough genes to survive?

    To understand how the genome is preserved across generations, I am exploring stochastic models of gene copy number. These models suggest that preferential inheritance can guard the fidelity of stem cells against looping.