Theoretical approaches to living systems

Project ID: 165

Supervisor(s): Richard Morris

My group focuses on applying and developing concepts from statistical and theoretical soft-condensed matter physics, as well as applied mathematics, to describe living systems.

We work alongside experimental partners in UNSW's centre for Single Molecule Science, and are based in the Lowy Centre for Cancer Research.

The underlying premise is that, at its most fundamental, biology cannot be disentangled from thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, and hydrodynamics.  Moreover, with the help of recent dramatic improvements in experimental techniques (both in microscopy and genetics) we aim to uncover the new physics of animate, living, matter.

The research program of the group is broad, and encompasses a diverse set of length- and time-scales.  Examples range from sub-cellular molecular information processing to morphogenesis and collective migration in tissues.  We even have some work concerning the collective behaviour of fish.

Since the subject matter is fundamentally out-of-equilibrium by nature, projects typically involve a high level of theory/mathematics, such as advanced hydrodynamics, differential geometry, and/or statistical field theories.  If desired, projects can be constructed to combine analysis with either some simulation or data & image processing.

In this context, I will work with prospective students in order to find a project that has a good fit.  Examples might include:

  • Covariant membrane hydrodynamics and its effect on embedded proteins (interest in differential geometry required).
  • Motility-Induced Phase Separation (MIPS) at the cell surface: what is the mechanism underpinning the formatin of protein nano-clusters.
  • Contractility-regulated modes of migration in expanding tissues; Levy flights and active jamming.
  • Fail-safe and error correction in T-cell receptor signaling.

I expect successful honours students to be offered the opportunity to study for a PhD.