Calendar of MRSEC Events

2019 Events

December 6, 2019
81st New England Complex Fluids Workshop
Harvard University
September 20, 2019
80th New England Complex Fluids Workshop
Brandeis University
August 17, 2019
REU Move-Out Day
August 14, 2019
Squishy Physics Seminar
Daniel Needleman, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, SEAS Harvard University
6 - 7:30pm | Pierce Hall, room 209

Non-equilibrium physics of the cytoskeleton and metabolism

Living systems are out of equilibrium and nearly all cellular processes require a continual supply of energy. The realization of the importance of non-equilibrium processes for subcellular organization helped to inspire the field of active matter, which seeks to understand the behaviors of system in which energy is input at the microscale. Despite intensive work on the dynamics and mechanics of active matter, there is very little known about the thermodynamic flows in these systems which are ultimately responsible for their non-equilibrium nature. Such thermodynamic flows are also extremely important (and extremely poorly understood) in biological systems, because the breakdown of metabolic processes responsible for energy transduction has diverse cellular and developmental consequences, and underlies a variety of diseases. In this talk, I will describe quantitative experiments on: 1) the non-equilibrium thermodynamics of mixtures of microtubules and molecular motors; 2) the metabolism of mammalian oocytes.

August 6, 2019
REU Dinner | 6:30 - 7:30pm
July 31, 2019
Squishy Physics Seminar
Michael Norton, School of Physics, Brandeis University
6 - 7:30pm | Pierce Hall, room 209

Design and control of reaction-diffusion oscillator networks

From power grids to neurons, oscillator networks represent a broad class of human-made and naturally occurring dynamical systems. Behaviors of multicellular organisms are organized by specialized neural tissues, underscoring the rich spatiotemporal patterns such networks exhibit. Towards developing synthetic analogs, we build and study a rudimentary model oscillator network system composed of Belousov-Zhabotinsky chemical oscillators housed in microfluidic wells and diffusively-coupled through PDMS membranes. In this talk, I will highlight recent work on two different network topologies with inhibitory coupling: stars or "hub and spoke" networks and a ring of three oscillators. For the former, I will discuss how the phase relationship between the hub and arm nodes is altered by the number of arms. For the latter, I will show how optimal control theory can be used to generate spatiotemporal patterns of photochemical perturbations that drive the network between its two attractors: wave states that propagate around the network with opposite sense. Such switching can leverage the system's inherent bistability to robustly generate different gaits at will or store information.

July 23, 2019
Squishy Physics Seminar
Philippe Bourrianne, Mechanical Engineering, MIT
6 - 7:30pm | Pierce Hall, room 209

Colloids and liquids from suspensions to superhydrophobicity

Colloidal suspensions are ubiquitous in our daily life. Micrometric particles dispersed in a solvent are indeed present in common liquids such as paints, inks or even food products. We will discuss the properties of those colloidal suspensions from their liquid phase to special properties of their solid deposits after drying. First, colloidal suspensions exhibit a wide range of rheological behaviors from shear-thinning to yield stress fluids. We will focus on the shear-thickening transition when dense suspensions experience a dramatic increase in viscosity above a critical shear-stress. By changing the physico-chemistry of the particles, we can tune this rheological transition and thus understand the interactions involved in this behavior. Increasing concentration can also be noticed during drying when solvent evaporates: particles finally form a solid deposit. After drying, a drop of a colloidal suspension leads to a variety of patterns from coffee-stain to more homogeneous coatings in paintings. We will discuss the effect of the initial concentration of particles on the drying pattern and on the subsequent mechanical instabilities. Finally, after the whole drying of the colloidal suspension, coatings are achieved. Depending of the nature of the particles, we can tune the wettability of the substrate up to superhydrophobic solid. We will briefly discuss how such a water-repellent substrate can allow levitation of liquids.

July 17, 2019
Squishy Physics Seminar
Stephen DeCamp, Harvard Medical School
6 - 7:30pm | Pierce Hall, room 209

Bioenergetics of cell unjamming

Metabolism is fundamental to all living systems. It drives cell growth, fuels ion pumps, powers cell migration, and much more. In the absence of cell metabolism, active processes that define life would cease to exist. Despite great leaps in understanding metabolism's role in maintaining cell homeostasis and contributing to pathological disorders, connections between cell mechanical events and energy metabolism remain poorly understood. In this talk, I present work focused on measuring the metabolic state of cells during collective cell migration achieved through unjamming of the confluent epithelial layer.

June 26, 2019
REU Program - Faculty Seminar
David Weitz, Harvard University
6 - 7pm | Maxwell Dworkin 119

Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Professor David (Dave) Weitz is the Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Harvard University He is the director of the NSF Materials Research Science Engineering Center at Harvard, as well as the co director of the BASF Advanced Research Initiative His research group at Harvard investigates the behavior of soft materials, studies a variety of biological systems from a soft matter perspective, and is well known for pioneering work in the area of microfluidics, including the physics of microfluidics, the engineering of microfluidic devices, and the application of microfluidics to biology, materials science, and two phase flow in porous media Weitz and his research group have extensive interactions with industry, with some of their work motivated by science that addresses technologically important problems Research in the group has led to several start up companies In addition to his research, Professor Weitz teaches courses in innovation and entrepreneurship, and is one of the founding faculty of the highly popular Harvard and EdX course Science Cooking From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science.

Professor Weitz will talk about the relationship between scientific innovation and commercialization, and will describe different routes to entrepreneurship based on his experience in creating and advising biotech and materials startup companies He will also answer student questions on when and how to create or work for a start up company.

Professor Weitz received his B Sc In Physics from the University of Waterloo and his PhD from Harvard University He worked as research physicist for 18 years at Exxon, leading the Interfaces and Inhomogeneous Materials group and Complex Fluids area Prior to joining Harvard, he was Professor of Physics at University of Pennsylvania.

June 26, 2019
Squishy Physics Seminar
Adel Djellouli, Harvard University
6 - 7:30pm | Pierce Hall, room 209

Buckling instability causes inertial thrust for spherical swimmers at all scales

Microswimmers, and among them aspirant microrobots, generally have to cope with flows where viscous forces are dominant, characterized by a low Reynolds number (Re). This implies constraints on the possible sequences of body motion, which have to be nonreciprocal. Furthermore, the presence of a strong drag limits the range of resulting velocities. In this presentation, I will propose a swimming mechanism which uses the buckling instability triggered by pressure waves to propel a spherical, hollow shell. With a macroscopic experimental model, I'll show that a net displacement is produced at all Re regimes. An optimal displacement caused by nontrivial history effects is reached at intermediate Re. I'll show that, due to the fast activation induced by the instability, this regime is reachable by microscopic shells. The rapid dynamics would also allow high-frequency excitation with standard traveling ultrasonic waves. Scale considerations predict a swimming velocity of order 1  cm/s for a remote-controlled microrobot, a suitable value for biological applications such as drug delivery.

June 19, 2019
Squishy Physics Seminar
Gianluca Etienne, EPFL, Lausanne, Switzerland
6 - 7:30pm | Pierce Hall, room 209

Fluorinated surfactants in droplet-based microfluidics: influence of their composition on the properties of emulsion drops

Droplet-based microfluidics, a method to produce emulsion drops in a controlled way and at high-throughputs, enables the miniaturization and automation of biological and chemical experiments. Each emulsion drop is used as a closed reaction vessel, enabling the performance of thousands of experiments per second, at throughputs traditional technologies cannot meet. To prevent emulsion drops from coalescing, they can be stabilized with surfactants. They adsorb at the liquid-liquid interface, lower the interfacial tension, and add steric stability. For most drop-based biological assays, aqueous drops are dispersed in fluorinated oils. These drops are stabilized with fluorinated surfactants, composed of two perfluoropolyether blocks linked to a polyethylene glycol (PEG) block. We studied how the composition of fluorinated surfactants influences the stability of emulsion drops and how the surfactant can contribute to the transport of encapsulants between drops leading to cross-contamination. We show that the mechanical and thermal stability of single emulsion drops strongly depends on the composition of the surfactants. We studied the leakage from double emulsions, resulting in cross-contamination, and show that it is mainly caused by tiny emulsion drops with sizes around 100 nm that spontaneously form at the water-oil interface. We show that the leakage can be reduced by an order of magnitude if surfactants that only moderately lower the interfacial tension or double emulsions with shell thickness similar to the diameter of the spontaneously forming drops are used. Lastly, I will present novel types of surfactants containing a catechol group in the hydrophilic block, that can be ionically cross-linked at the interface of a drop, creating a viscoelastic shell. We demonstrate that by cross-linking the surfactant at the drop interface, we create capsules that show high mechanical stability, and are impermeable to encapsulants. Leveraging their stickiness, we demonstrate that these capsules, if densely packed, can be printed into 3D structures.

June 12, 2019
Squishy Physics Seminar
Kirk Mutafopoulos, Harvard University and Cytonome
6 - 7:30pm | Pierce Hall, room 209

Surface acoustic wave microfluidics for cell sorting applications

Surface acoustic wave (SAW) technology integration into microfluidics has gained significant attention over the past years and has great potential to support and advance flow cytometry, cell sorting, and sample handling. SAW-based microfluidics provides many advantages such as versatile fluid handling, biocompatibility, easy integration into various channel designs, rapid prototyping, and is compact while maintaining all the benefits of using a microfluidic device. One of the more notable advantages that has been shown are the abilities to actively sort or provide spatial control of particles. We discuss this technology and its various applications with an emphasis on cell sorting. I report a fully enclosed microfluidic fluorescence activated cell-sorting (µFACS) device that employs a single transducer to generate traveling surface acoustic waves (TSAW) to sort cells upon fluorescence detection at rates comparable to conventional jet-in-air FACS machines, with sort purity and cell viability in excess of 90%. The device operates in continuous flow without encapsulating cells in droplets or labeling them with responsive beads prior to sorting. By studying SAW’s fast fluidic actuation and forces in microchannels, we can engineer a variety of biocompatible SAW-based microfluidic devices for the field of flow cytometry and cell sorting.

June 10, 2019
REU Move-In Day
June 7, 2019
79th New England Complex Fluids Workshop
UMass Boston | 8:00am - 4:45pm
May 22, 2019
Squishy Physics Seminar
Jose Bico, ESPCI, Paris, France
6 - 7:30pm | Pierce Hall, room 209

Making shapes

Cartographers have early realized that it is impossible to draw a flat map of the Earth without deforming continents. Gauss later generalized this geometrical constrain in his Theorema Egregium. Can we invert the problem and obtain a 3D shape by changing the local distances in an initially flat plate? This strategy in widely used in Nature: leaves or petals may develop into very complex shapes by differential growth. From an engineering point of view, similar shape changes can be obtained when a network of channels embedded in a flat patch of elastomer is inflated. Can we program the final inflated shape?

May 15, 2019
Squishy Physics Seminar
Daniel Harris, Brown University, School of Engineering
6 - 7:30pm | Pierce Hall, room 209

Forces on capillary disks

Understanding the forces on small bodies at a fluid interface has significant relevance to a range of natural and artificial systems. In this talk, I will discuss two recent investigations in my lab where we’ve developed custom experiments to explore different forces on “capillary disks”: centimeter-scale hydrophobic disks trapped at an air-water interface.

In the first part, we investigate the friction experienced by a capillary disk sliding along the interface. We demonstrate that the motion is dominated by skin friction due to the viscous boundary layer that forms in the fluid beneath the moving body. We develop a simple model that considers the boundary layer as quasi-steady, and that is able to capture the experimental behavior for a range of disk radii, masses, and fluid viscosities.

In the second part, we present direct measurements of the attractive force between capillary disks. It is well known that objects at a fluid interface may interact due to the mutual deformation they induce on the free surface, however very few direct measurements of such forces have been reported. In the present work, we characterize how the attraction force depends on the disk radius, mass, and relative spacing. The magnitudes of the measured forces are rationalized with a simple scaling argument and compared directly to numerical predictions.

Future directions in this area will also be discussed, in particular, we are beginning to investigate the motion and interactions of "active" capillary disks at the interface.

May 8, 2019
Squishy Physics Seminar
Hyunmin Yi, Tufts University, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering
6 - 7:30pm | Pierce Hall, room 209

Integrated synthesis-capture strategies for viral templated and catalytically active palladium nanoparticles toward multifunctional membranes

Controlled and programmable fabrication of functional materials at the nano to micro scales under mild aqueous conditions is an unmet challenge. Our approach to addressing these challenges is biofabrication, that is to understand and utilize the programmable functionalities of biologically derived materials and interactions. Viral assemblies have attracted substantial attention as templates for materials synthesis due to their precisely controlled dimensions, chemical functionalities and the ability to impart additional modalities through genetic modification. We harness several unique properties of tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) for facile synthesis of catalytically active palladium (Pd) nanoparticles. Unique advantages of TMV templates include robust nanotubular structure providing large surface area, high stability in a wide range of conditions, easy mass production and biological safety. We have demonstrated size-controlled synthesis of small palladium nanoparticles under mild aqueous conditions via spontaneous reduction of precursors. High catalytic activity and stability of TMV-templated Pd nanoparticles are examined via dichromate reduction reaction. The results show that the TMV-templated Pd nanoparticle synthesis offers attractive routes to highly active, controlled and stable catalyst systems.

Polymeric hydrogels offer attractive platforms for a large range of applications including bioassays, separation and catalysis. We exploit simple photo-induced radical polymerization of poly(ethylene glycol) diacrylate and related materials to capture the as-prepared viral-nanoparticle complexes for facile catalytic reaction applications via replica molding and interfacially initiated hydrogel layer synthesis. This simple, robust and readily tunable scheme allows the large nanocomplexes to be captured and utilized without aggregation or leakage in a stable fashion while small molecule reactants and products can access the catalytic sites with minimal mass transfer limitation. Combined, our facile synthesis-capture strategy integrates potent viral nanotemplates, high catalytic activity and stability of the small nanocatalysts, and robust polymerization schemes. We thus believe that our strategy can be readily extended to programmable manufacturing of a large array of multifunctional materials.

In this presentation, our recent progress on the fabrication of multifunctional membranes via interfacially initiated radical polymerization offering controlled macroporous structures for size-selective protein purification as well as catalytic remediation of toxic compounds will be highlighted.

May 9, 2019
Widely Applied Mathematics Seminar Series
Lene Oddershede, Niels Bohr Institute, Denmark
3pm | Pierce Hall, room 209

Role of biomechanics in stem cell differentiation and organ development

Early in embryonic development the blastocyst consists of a mix of two different cell populations, one primed towards the epiblast which will later develop into the fetus, and one primed for the endoderm, which will develop into the amniotic sac. Initially, those two populations are mixed and later they segregate into the fetus and amniotic sac. Using embryonic stem cells as a relevant model system, we use optical tweezers to quantify the physical properties of those two populations and demonstrate that their viscoelastic properties are significantly different. By modeling, we also show that this relatively small but significant difference in viscoelasticity in those two cell populations is enough to cause a segregation of the two populations, hence, the biomechanical properties alone can drive the process.

Mechanical forces and biophysical properties of cells are also vital for the morphogenesis of organs and embryos. However, how mechanical force and biophysical properties specifically contribute to tissue formation is poorly understood, predominantly due to a lack of tools to measure and quantify biomechanical parameters deep within living developing organisms without causing severe physiological damage. Using an adapted version of optical tweezers we quantify cellular viscoelasticity as deep as 100-150 µm within living embryos and demonstrate that liver and foregut morphogenesis in zebrafish entails progenitor populations with varying mechanical properties. Gut progenitors exhibit are more elastic compared to the more viscous neighboring cell populations, indicating that viscoelastic properties influence specific morphogenetic behaviors. The higher elasticity of gut progenitors correlates with an increased cellular concentration of microtubules and may be decisive for organ positioning. This approach opens new possibilities for quantitative in vivo investigation of cell mechanics in biological systems with complex 3D organization, such as embryos, explants or organoids.

May 6, 2019
Squishy Physics Seminar
Hyunmin Yi, Tufts University, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering
6 - 7:30pm | Pierce Hall, room 209

Integrated synthesis-capture strategies for viral templated and catalytically active palladium nanoparticles toward multifunctional membranes

Controlled and programmable fabrication of functional materials at the nano to micro scales under mild aqueous conditions is an unmet challenge. Our approach to addressing these challenges is biofabrication, that is to understand and utilize the programmable functionalities of biologically derived materials and interactions. Viral assemblies have attracted substantial attention as templates for materials synthesis due to their precisely controlled dimensions, chemical functionalities and the ability to impart additional modalities through genetic modification. We harness several unique properties of tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) for facile synthesis of catalytically active palladium (Pd) nanoparticles. Unique advantages of TMV templates include robust nanotubular structure providing large surface area, high stability in a wide range of conditions, easy mass production and biological safety. We have demonstrated size-controlled synthesis of small palladium nanoparticles under mild aqueous conditions via spontaneous reduction of precursors. High catalytic activity and stability of TMV-templated Pd nanoparticles are examined via dichromate reduction reaction. The results show that the TMV-templated Pd nanoparticle synthesis offers attractive routes to highly active, controlled and stable catalyst systems.

Polymeric hydrogels offer attractive platforms for a large range of applications including bioassays, separation and catalysis. We exploit simple photo-induced radical polymerization of poly(ethylene glycol) diacrylate and related materials to capture the as-prepared viral-nanoparticle complexes for facile catalytic reaction applications via replica molding and interfacially initiated hydrogel layer synthesis. This simple, robust and readily tunable scheme allows the large nanocomplexes to be captured and utilized without aggregation or leakage in a stable fashion while small molecule reactants and products can access the catalytic sites with minimal mass transfer limitation. Combined, our facile synthesis-capture strategy integrates potent viral nanotemplates, high catalytic activity and stability of the small nanocatalysts, and robust polymerization schemes. We thus believe that our strategy can be readily extended to programmable manufacturing of a large array of multifunctional materials.

In this presentation, our recent progress on the fabrication of multifunctional membranes via interfacially initiated radical polymerization offering controlled macroporous structures for size-selective protein purification as well as catalytic remediation of toxic compounds will be highlighted.

May 1, 2019
Squishy Physics Seminar
Mark Menesses, Boston University, Department of Mechanical Engineering
6 - 7:30pm | Pierce Hall, room 209

Bubbles battling biofouling and persisting with volatility

Bubbles are commonly found in the world around us, from industrial processes to carbonated beverages. In this talk I will present two studies about bubbles, from an applied use to a fundamental phenomenon. First, I will discuss the use of bubbles to prevent the growth of marine biofouling. Bubbles rising along a submerged surface have been shown to inhibit biofouling growth, but little work has been done to determine the primary mechanisms responsible for their antifouling behavior. Here I will present a combination of field and laboratory experiments used to gain insight into the mechanisms at play, thus laying a foundation for optimization of this antifouling technique.

For the second half of the talk, I will discuss the fundamental stability of bubbles in volatile liquids. When a bubble arrives at a free surface, we typically expect the film of the bubble cap to thin over some period of time until it ruptures. Traditionally, the drainage of this film has been considered inevitable with evaporation only hastening the film rupture. Here I will present air bubbles at the free surface of liquids which appear to defy traditional drainage rules and can avoid rupture, persisting for hours until dissolution. Using pure, volatile liquids free of any surfactants, we highlight and model a thermocapillary phenomenon in which liquid surrounding the bubble is continuously drawn into the bubble cap, effectively overpowering the drainage effects.

May 23-24, 2019
Future of Quantitative Biology Symposium
Harvard University
The symposium will feature interactive discussion sessions with faculty and is catered toward early-career researchers.

April 25, 2019
Informal Squishy Physics Seminar
Gaurav Chaudhary, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
10am | Harvard University, Northwest Building Room B150

Unraveling hagfish slime

Hagfish slime is a unique predator defense material containing a network of long fibrous threads each 10-15 cm in length. Hagfish releases the threads in a condensed coiled state known as skeins (~100 μm), which must unravel within a fraction of a second and form a soft hydrogel to thwart a predator attack. The mechanisms of how the hagfish controls the unraveling rates, and the properties of the resulting gel are not well understood. I will present results from our recent experiments and modeling that will address these questions. First, the hypothesis that the viscous hydrodynamics may be responsible for the rapid unravelling rates is considered, and the scenario of a single skein unspooling as the fiber peels away due to viscous drag is discussed. As a result, I will show that under reasonable physiological conditions viscous-drag-induced unravelling can occur within a few hundred milliseconds, comparable with the physiological time scales. Subsequently, I will show that key rheological and structural features of hagfish slime are insensitive to its concentration, in spite of the uncontrolled gelation process, and this peculiar characteristic may be vital for its physiological use.

April 24, 2019
Squishy Physics Seminar
Ayse Asatekin, Tufts University, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering
6 - 7:30pm | Pierce Hall, room 209

Next generation membranes through polymer self-assembly

Asatekin lab focuses on new polymeric materials designed to self-assemble to impart improved and/or new functionality to separation membranes by controlling nano-scale morphology and surface functionality. Our work aims to develop new membranes for generating fresh water, treating wastewater, and process separations. We focus on preventing membrane fouling and controlling membrane selectivity while maintaining high flux and simple, scalable manufacturing methods.

In one research direction, we aim to understand how zwitterion-containing copolymers self-assemble, and utilize their behavior to develop membranes with improved capabilities. Zwitterions, functional groups with equal numbers of positive and negative charges, strongly resist fouling, defined as performance loss due to the adsorption and adhesion of feed components onto the membrane. They also easily self-assemble due to strong intermolecular interactions. We have developed high flux, fouling resistant, size-selective membranes utilizing the self-assembly of random copolymers of zwitterionic and hydrophobic monomers. The effective membrane pore size or ~1 nm closely matches the size of self-assembled zwitterionic nanodomains. These membranes are exceptionally fouling resistant, showing little to no flux decline during the filtration of a wide range foulants and complete flux recovery with a water rinse.

We also aim to develop membranes that can separate small molecules of similar size based on their chemical properties. For this purpose, we prepared membranes by depositing micelles formed by random copolymers of a highly hydrophobic fluorinated monomer with methacrylic acid on a porous support. The gaps between the micelles act as 1-5 nm nanochannels functionalized with carboxylic acid groups. These membranes show charge-based selectivity between organic molecules. Furthermore, the carboxyl groups can be functionalized to alter the selectivity of the membrane. We used this method to prepare membranes that exhibit aromaticity-based selectivity. We believe these approaches will eventually lead to novel membranes that are capable of new separations and can replace more energy intensive methods such as distillation or extraction.

April 25, 2019
Taste of Science Festival
Ayse Asatekin, Tufts University, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering
7 - 9:30pm | Sissy K's 4 Commercial Street Boston, MA

Next generation membranes through polymer self-assembly

taste of science is an annual festival in cities across the United States. This year, the physics event focuses on soft and active matter. Aditi Chakrabarti (postdoc in Mahadevan's group) and John Berezney (postdoc from Brandeis on active nematics) will be speaking at Sissy K's.

April 17, 2019
Squishy Physics Seminar
Max Bi, Northeastern University, Department of Physics
6 - 7:30pm | Pierce Hall, room 209

Fluidity and jamming in epithelial tissue

Cells must move through tissues in many important biological processes, including embryonic development, cancer metastasis, and wound healing. Often these tissues are dense and a cell's motion is strongly constrained by its neighbors, leading to glassy dynamics. Although there is a density-driven glass transition in particle-based models for active matter, these cannot explain liquid-to-solid transitions in confluent tissues, where there are no gaps between cells and the packing fraction remains fixed and equal to unity. I will demonstrate the existence of a new type of rigidity transition that occurs in confluent tissue monolayers at constant density. The onset of rigidity is governed by a model parameter that encodes single-cell properties such as cell-cell adhesion and cortical tension. I will also introduce a new model that simultaneously captures polarized cell motility and multicellular interactions in a confluent tissue and identify a glassy transition line that originates at the critical point of the rigidity transition. This work suggests an experimentally accessible structural order parameter that specifies the entire transition surface separating fluid tissues and solid tissues. Finally, I will discuss recent work using a culture of human lung epithelial tissue to compare a newly discovered mode of fluidization of jammed cells—the unjamming transition (UJT)—with the canonical epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT).

April 10, 2019
Squishy Physics Seminar
Ovijit Chaudhuri, Stanford University, Department of Mechanical Engineering
6 - 7:30pm | Pierce Hall, room 209

Extracellular matrix viscoelasticity and its impact on cells

The extracellular matrix (ECM) is a complex assembly of structural proteins that provides physical support and biochemical signaling to cells in tissues. Over the last two decades, studies have revealed the important role that ECM elasticity plays in regulating a variety of biological processes in cells, including stem cell differentiation and cancer progression. However, tissues and ECM are often viscoelastic, displaying stress relaxation over time in response to a deformation, and can exhibit mechanical plasticity. My group has been focused on elucidating the impact of ECM viscoelasticity and plasticity on cells. Our approach involves the use engineered biomaterials for 3D culture, in which the mechanical properties can be independently modulated. In this talk, I will discuss our recent findings on how cells sense ECM viscoelasticity through stretch activated ion channels, how cancer cells generate extracellular force in order to divide in confining ECMs, and on how matrix mechanical plasticity regulates cancer cell migration.

April 3, 2019
Sigma-Aldrich Inaugural Lecture in conjunction with the Harvard Applied Mechanics Colloquia
Timothy J. White, University of Colorado, Gallogly Professor of Engineering Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering
4:30 - 5:30pm | Pierce Hall, room 209

Exploiting Directed Self Assembly to Enable Functional Performance in Liquid Crystalline Elastomers

Liquid crystalline materials are pervasive, enabling devices in our homes, purses, and pockets.

It has been long-known that liquid crystallinity in polymers enables exceptional characteristics in high performance applications such as transparent armor or bulletproof vests.

This talk will generally focus on a specific class of liquid crystalline polymeric materials: liquid crystalline elastomers. These materials were predicted by de Gennes to have exceptional promise as artificial muscles, owing to the unique assimilation of anisotropy and elasticity.

Subsequent experimental studies have confirmed the salient features of these materials, with respect to other forms of stimuli-responsive soft matter, are large stroke actuation up to 400% as well "soft elasticity" (stretch at minimal stress).

This presentation will survey our efforts in directing the self-assembly of these materials to realize distinctive functional behavior with implications to soft robotics, flexible electronics, and biology. Most notably, enabled by the chemistries and processing methods developed in my laboratories, we have prepared liquid crystal elastomers with distinctive actuation and mechanical properties realizing nearly 20 J/kg work capacities in homogenous material compositions.

Local control of orientation dictates nonuniformity in the elastic properties, which we recently have shown could be a powerful means of ruggedizing flexible electronic devices. Facile preparation of optical films, prepared with the cholesteric phase, capable of concurrent shape and color change will also be discussed.

In addition, there will be an Industrial Forum Luncheon hosted by Sigma-Aldrich in Pierce 209 at noon, sandwiches and refreshments from Flour Bakery will be provided. This lecture will be a wonderful opportunity to hear more about industrial career opportunities.

Representatives from Sigma-Aldrich will include:

Beth Rosenberg is the Manager of Research Technology Specialist (RTS)-North America. She leads a team of Chemistry, Materials Science and Life Science RTS whose mission is deepen scientific relationship.

Na Li is the Global Product Manager for Electronic Materials at MilliporeSigma.

Tyler Gravelle is the Harvard MilliporeSigma representative and his been working with campus researchers for the past two years.

March 29, 2019
Applied Physics Colloquium
Herbert Levine, Northeastern University, Department of Physics
4pm | Maxwell Dworkin G115

What is epithelial-mesenchymal plasticity, what does it have to do with physics, and why is it important for metastasis?

Until very recently, most cancer biologists operated with the assumption that the most common route to metastasis involved cells of the primary tumor transforming to a motile single-cell phenotype via complete EMT (the epithelial-mesenchymal transition). This change allowed them to migrate individually to distant organs, eventually leading to clonal growths in other locations. But, a new more nuanced picture has been emerging, based on advanced measurements, and on computational systems biology approaches. It has now been realized that cells can readily adopt states with hybrid properties, use these properties to move collectively and cooperatively, and reach distant niches as highly metastatic clusters.

This talk will focus on the accumulating evidence for this revised perspective, the role of biological physics theory in instigating this whole line of investigation, and on open questions currently under investigation.

March 20, 2019
Squishy Physics Seminar
Keith Brown, Boston University, Department of Mechanical Engineering
6 - 7:30pm | Pierce Hall, room 209

Exploring smart fluids from particles to properties

Abstract: Smart fluids - or a fluid with suspended particles in which an applied field produces a substantial change in properties – are a fascinating class of soft materials that are widely used in applications ranging from automotive suspension to high performance speakers. However, predicting their performance from first principles remains challenging. Our underlying hypothesis is that a deeper understanding can be gained by studying highly controlled model particles and connecting these to emergent behavior of the system. Here, we explore two model systems, (1) the electric-field directed assembly of nanoparticles and (2) the mechanical properties of particle-laden interfaces. In the first section, we introduce a novel method to measure the polarizability of nanoparticles based upon modest trapping fields and fluorescence microscopy. By using this assay, we determine that nanoparticles can exhibit polarizabilities that are >30 times larger than would be expected based upon simple models, corroborating early theoretical work that includes contributions from space charge in the Debye layer. In the second section, we discuss the mechanical properties of liquid marbles, or drops of liquid coated with a layer of hydrophobic particles that render the entire structure non-wetting. By developing a novel method to study the deformation of liquid marbles, we find that while the elastic mechanics of liquid marbles are invariant of the particle coating, the failure properties of marbles depend strongly on the particle identity, suggesting that more weakly interacting particles constitute tougher marbles. These observations are further explored using a series of macroscopic experiments studying the break-up of particle rafts based on a funnel method. While there remain open questions about the behavior of smart fluids, these lessons illustrate that important insights can be gained by combining novel multi-scale characterization strategies and well-characterized particles.

March 13, 2019
Squishy Physics Seminar
David Brückner, Arnold Sommerfeld Center for Theoretical Physics, LMU Munich
6 - 7:30pm | Pierce Hall, room 209

Stochastic Nonlinear Dynamics of Confined Cell Migration

Abstract: In many biological phenomena, cells migrate through confining environments. To study such confined migration, we place migrating cells in two-state micropatterns, in which the cells stochastically migrate back and forth between two square adhesion sites connected by a thin bridge. We adopt a data-driven approach where we learn an equation of motion directly from the experimentally determined short time-scale dynamics, decomposing the migration into deterministic and stochastic contributions. This equation captures the dynamics of the confined cell and accurately predicts the transition rates between the sites. We thereby derive the emergent non-linear dynamics that governs the migration directly from experimental data. In particular, we find that the deterministic dynamics is poised near a bifurcation between a limit cycle and bistable behaviour. As a result, we find that cells are deterministically driven into the thin constriction; a process that is sped up by noise. Our approach yields a conceptual framework that may be extended to describe cell migration in more complex confining environments.

February 27, 2019
Squishy Physics Seminar
Melissa Rinaldin, Instituut-Lorentz for Theoretical Physics, Leiden Institute of Physics, Leiden, NL
6 - 7:30pm | Pierce Hall, room 209

Demixing on curved surfaces

Abstract: Like mixtures of oil and water, artificial lipid membranes undergo liquid-liquid phase separation. Unraveling the physical mechanisms behind the organization of these liquid phases in membranes is a central goal in biophysics, while the ability to reproduce them in synthetic structures holds great potential for applications in self-assembly and drug delivery. Previous studies on vesicles and supported lipid bilayers have unveiled a fundamental interplay between the membrane geometry and position of different lipid domains. However, the detailed mechanisms behind this coupling remain incompletely understood, because of the difficulty of independently controlling the membrane geometry and composition. In this talk, I will show how we overcome this limitation by fabricating multicomponent lipid bilayers supported by colloidal scaffolds of prescribed shape. Thanks to a combination of experiments and theoretical modeling, we demonstrate that the substrate local curvature and the global chemical composition of the bilayer determine both the spatial arrangement and the amount of mixing of the lipid domains.

February 20, 2019
Squishy Physics Seminar
Tim Atherton, Tufts University, Department of Physics and Astronomy
6 - 7:30pm | Pierce Hall, room 209

Connecting Crystalline and Amorphous Packing on Curved Surfaces

Abstract: Packing problems occur in numerous applications, such as granular media under confinement, Pickering emulsions, viral structure, etc. When identical particles are packed occurs on a curved geometry, crystalline order is necessarily disrupted by the curvature, necessitating introduction of defects: a paradigmatic example is the “scars” or grain boundaries found in the packing of spherical particles on a spherical shell. Conversely, for very polydispersed or heterogeneous systems, packings are amorphous. We connect these two regimes by investigating packings as a parameter of particle shape, finding that the spherical crystallography and amorphous regimes are linked by growth and percolation of the scar network. Prospects for experimental realizations of such systems will also be presented.

February 13, 2019
Squishy Physics Seminar
Behrouz Abedian, Tufts University, Department of Mechanical Engineering
6 - 7:30pm | Pierce Hall, room 209

Ackerson Microstructural Transitions in Sheared Suspensions

Abstract: A mixture of particles suspended in a fluid is ubiquitous around us, in nature and applications. When a suspension is sheared, it exhibits a complex, rich and varied behavior such as shear thinning, shear thickening, shrinking or dilating, and so on. Despite extensive available data on mixture reactions to shearing, determination of macroscopic properties of a suspension has remained a challenge, as such mixture properties are dependent on particle systems and sizes, shearing magnitude, experimental duration and experimental methods, even when hydro-clustering is avoided, and the suspension is composed of uniform rotationally-neutral monodispersed spherical particles. At the same time, microstructural ordered states of sheared suspensions have been detected and reported for numerous spherical mixtures. In this presentation, relationships between dynamic and effective ordered states and two components of stress tensor will be explored, the first linear viscosity coefficient and the second normal stress. A proper relationship between these two components will also be developed.

We consider solid spherical particles that are interacting both locally and globally, and form a single effective ordered or unordered structure in the mixture when viscosity is the dominant dissipation mechanism. It is demonstrated that this assumption is sufficient to predicting stress components of the mixture response to an applied shear stress under different conditions, for both colloidal and non-colloidal suspensions, up to but not including the jamming limit. We’ll show that our analysis is consistent with the light-scattering observations of Ackerson group in the past decades. For non-colloidal mixtures, both viscosity and the 2nd-particle pressure data confirm the first Ackerson transition at particle volume fractions 45-50%. For colloidal suspensions, the observed non-Newtonian effects such as shear thinning at higher volume fractions or at higher shear-rates coincide with emergence of the second Ackerson transition to a higher-order crystalline state by the shear flow.

March 8, 2019
78th New England Complex Fluids Workshop
Northeastern University | 8am - 5pm
February 1, 2019
REU Application Deadline

Research Experiences for Undergraduates program details

Through the REU program, we provide a coordinated, educational and dynamic research community to inspire and encourage young scientists to continue on to graduate school. We emphasize professional development workshops and seminars for a career in science and engineering. Weekly faculty seminars highlight research and community activities are integrated into the program. Undergraduate students research in world-class laboratories, and focusing on an in-depth research project while exploring multidisciplinary research topics to hone your science communication skills. We are seeking undergraduates from chemistry, physics, biology, computer science, mathematics (applied and pure), statistics, and engineering. Students without prior research experience, including freshman and sophomore students, are especially encouraged to apply.


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