Asher Preska Steinberg ’13 receives NSF Graduate Fellowship

steinbergAsher Preska Steinberg ’13, who majored in both chemistry and physics at Brandeis, has been awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship in materials research.  The fellowships, which are awarded based on a national competition, provide three full years of support for Ph.D. research and are highly valued by students and institutions.

At Brandeis, Asher worked on his senior thesis in chemistry with Professor Milos Dolnik as part of the Epstein Group. They studied the growth dynamics of Turing patterns in photosensitive reaction-diffusion systems. As part of the 2011 NYU MRSEC Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program Asher worked with Paul Chaikin to study active colloids, and they recently published an article in Science entitled “Living Crystals of Light-Activated Colloidal Surfers”. The article received attention from the press, including the LA Times, Wired, and Ars Technica.  Last summer Asher participated in the Columbia EFRC Research Program for Undergraduates (RPU) and studied silver plasmonic nanoparticles with Louis Brus.

Asher will be attending California Institute of Technology this coming fall in the field of Chemical Physics.

Dogic Lab Wins Andor Insight Award

The ‘Insight Awards‘  is a video contest showcasing research imagery from the physical and life sciences which utilize Andor technology to capture data.  This year, the Dogic Lab submitted a research video to the competition and garnered first prize in the Physical Sciences division for their video of Oscillating Microtubule Bundles.

From the competition notes:

Microtubules are a bio-polymer composed of the protein tubulin and are used extensively in the cell for cellular division, cell motility, and transportation of cargo within the cell. Here, we investigate the material properties of mixtures of microtubules, a depletion agent, and the molecular motor Kinesin. The microtubules, driven by Kinesin motors, spontaneously organize into bundles of microtubules that oscillate in a manner reminiscent of flagella and cilia found in biology. This engineered system will allow us to studying systems of self-propelled and self-organized matter that exist far from equilibrium in the field known as Active Matter.

We use standard fluorescent microscopy to image labeled microtubules in a thin, flow cell microscope chamber. An Andor Clara camera was used in conjunction with a Nikon Ti Eclipse microscope to capture this video.

Video and Entry by Stephen DeCamp.

For this, and more videos from the Dogic Lab, visit their YouTube page or their website at Brandeis University.

Brandeis undergrad research on cover of Astronomical Journal

3C345CoverWithAuthors1kThe editors of the Astronomical Journal chose an image from a Brandeis research paper to adorn the cover of the February issue of the Journal (see right). What is sweet about this is that the image was made by Valerie Marchenko, a senior physics major who has been doing research since her freshman year, initially with Dave Roberts, and presently with John Wardle in the Physics Department. Several of the images in the paper were made by Valerie, and of course she is a co-author. This is actually her second publication in a mainline astronomical journal.

Roberts DH, Wardle JFC, Marchenko VV. The Structure and Linear Polarization of the Kiloparsec-scale Jet of the Quasar 3C 345. The Astronomical Journal. 2013;145(2):49.

Brandeis undergraduates publish upward of 20 papers a year in scientific journals along with their faculty, postdoc and grad student mentors.

Ye Zhang wins Materials Research Society Poster Award

Ye Zhang, a Postdoctoral Fellow from Prof. Bing Xu’s research group at Brandeis, won the 2012 MRS Fall Meeting Poster Awards for her poster titled Self-oscillatory Hydrogels Driven by Belousov-Zhabotinsky Reaction within the symposium on Bioinspired Directional Surfaces-From Nature to Engineered Textured Surfaces & Precision Polymer Materials-Fabricating Functional Assemblies, Surfaces, Interfaces, and Devices. The goal of the project is to make materials that operate like synthetic cardiac or intestinal muscles; feed them and they will pump forever, or as long as the arteries remain open. Ye, the poster’s lead author, is a member of the Brandeis Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) working on project involving the groups of Profs. Bing Xu, Irving Epstein and Seth Fraden of the Chemistry and Physics Departments.

Ye’s work focuses on the development and study of active matter based on non-linear chemical dynamics, specifically the Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction. Beginning two years ago she systematically modified a class of gels that exhibit periodic volume oscillations which were produced by other groups. First, Ye succeeded in significantly improving the amplitude of volume oscillations. Next, she developed several novel self-oscillatory systems and established a systematic way to improve the bulk material properties of the synthetic heart.  To build a reliable beating heart, Ye optimized the molecules building the material at the molecular level of tens to hundreds of atoms, or scales of 1 nm and then figured out how to assemble them into networks of polymers on the scales of 10 – 100 nm, and then further assembled them on a longer length scale, into elastic networks on the scales of microns, and finally sculpted the resulting rubbery materials using photolithographic and microfluidic methods into useful shapes for study and application. Ye’s award is a recognition of her contribution to molecular engineering and serves as a quintessential example of the  “bottom-up” construction methods exemplified by the interdisciplinary teams of the Brandeis MRSEC.

Materials in Motion: Engineering Bio-Inspired Motile Matter

Life is on the move! Motion is ubiquitous in biology. From the gargantuan steps of an elephant to the tiniest single celled amoeba, movement in biology is a complex phenomenon that originates at the cellular level and involves the organization and regulation of thousands of proteins. These proteins do everything from mixing the cytoplasm to driving cell motility and cell division. Deciphering the origins of motion is no easy feat and scientists have been studying such complex behavior for quite some time. With biology as an inspiration, studying these complex behaviors provides insight into engineering principals which will allow researchers to develop an entirely new category of far-from-equilibrium materials that spontaneously move, flow or swim.

In a recent report in the journal Nature, a team of researchers from Brandeis University consisting of Tim Sanchez, Daniel T. N. Chen, Stephen J. DeCamp, Michael Heymann, and Zvonimir Dogic have constructed a minimal experimental system for studying far-from-equilibrium materials. This system demonstrates the assembly of a simple mixture of proteins that results in a hierarchy of phenomena. This hierarchy begins with extending bundles of bio-filaments, produces networks that mix themselves, and finally culminates in active liquid crystals that impart self-motility to large emulsion droplets.

Their system consists of three basic components: 1) microtubule filaments, 2) kinesin motor proteins which exert forces between microtubule filaments, and 3) a depletion agent which bundles microtubule filaments together. When put together under well-defined conditions, these components form bundled active networks (BANs) that exhibit large-scale spontaneous motion driven by internally generated active stresses. These motions, in turn, drive coherent fluid flows. These features bear a striking resemblance to a biological process called cytoplasmic streaming, in which the cellular cytoskeleton spontaneously mixes its content. Additionally, the system has great potential for testing active matter theories because the researchers can precisely tune the relevant system parameters, such as ATP and protein concentration.


The researchers also demonstrate the utility of this biologically-inspired synthetic system by studying materials science topics that have no direct biological analog. Under dense confinement to an oil-water interface, microtubule bundles undergo a spontaneous transition to an aligned state. Soft matter physics describes such materials as liquid crystals, which are the materials used to make liquid crystal displays (LCDs). These active liquid crystals show a rich variety of dynamical behavior that is totally inaccessible to their equilibrium analogs and opens an avenue for studying an entirely new class of materials with highly desirable properties.

Lastly, inspired by streaming flows that occur in cells, the researchers encapsulate the bundled active networks into spherical emulsion droplets. Within the droplet, microtubules again formed a self-organized nematic liquid crystal at the oil-water interface. When the droplets were partially squished between glass plates, the streaming flows generated by the dynamic liquid crystals lead to the emergence of spontaneous self-motility.

This research constitutes several important advances in the studies of the cytoskeleton, non-equilibrium statistical mechanics, soft-condensed matter, active matter, and the hydrodynamics of fluid mixing. The researchers have demonstrated the use of biological materials to produce biomimetic functions ranging from self-motility to spontaneous fluid flows using fundamentally new mechanisms. Additionally, the experimental system of bundled active microtubules is poised to be a model for exploring the physics of gels, liquid crystals, and emulsions under far-from-equilibrium conditions.

To see more videos from the Dogic lab at Brandeis University, check out their YouTube page.

The best battalion in the National Guard

Gregory Widberg is the Sr. Mechanical Engineer in the Physics department who also works with other departments in the Division of Science repairing scientific equipment.  Greg was called to active duty and served in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2012 as the Command Sgt. Major for the 1st Battalion, 182nd Infantry Regiment.  Greg is shown accepting the Walter T. Kerwin Jr. Readiness Award in a ceremony in Washington, DC on October 23, 2012.  The award is presented to the battalion with the highest level of readiness in its respective component.

General Raymond Odierno, chief of staff, U. S. Army, Lt Col. Ron Cupples, commander, 1st Battalion, 182nd Infantry Regiment, Massachusetts Army National Guard, Command Sgt. Maj. Greg Widberg, senior enlisted advisor, 1st Battalion, 182nd Infantry Regiment, Massachusetts Army National Guard, and Command Sgt. Maj. Raymond Chandler III, Sgt. Maj. of the Army, pose for a picture after Odinero presented the Walter T.Kerwin Jr. Readiness Award to Cupples and Widberg during a ceremony at the Association of the United States Army Eisenhower Luncheon as the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington D.C., Oct. 23, 2012. The Kerwin Award, which is open to Army National Guard and Army Reserve battalions, is presented to the battalion with the highest level of readiness in it’s respective component. In order to be considered each battalion must have been rated as having superior performance in eight specific areas as well as meeting other specific criteria. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jerry Saslav, Massachusetts National Guard Public Affairs)

New England Complex Fluids Workshop at Brandeis Sept 21

The 52nd New England Complex Fluids Workshop will be held on September 21, 2012. hosted by the Brandeis MRSEC. The workshop will feature a panel of researchers from industry exploring the academic / industrial relationship. Additionally, we will have one session of invited academic speakers, plus  two contributed “sound bite” sessions. Please consider submitting your work for an oral presentation.

In addition to taking questions from the floor, the panel will address questions such as  what kind of training and education do industrial labs seek in job applicants? What (scientific) knowledge should applicants possess? experience? skills? creativity? business knowledge? What should the universities do to better prepare students for a career in industry? What opinion do the industrial scientists and managers have on the research being done at universities? And how does research done in industry compare to that done in universities?  How common are collaborations between industry and academic researchers? What makes a successful collaboration? When does industry use academic consultants?

Registration (free) required: (deadline: 8am, September 19, 2012)


 Registration & Coffee9:00 – 9:30 AM Shapiro Campus Center, Room 236.1 Talk9:30 PM – 10:10 AM  (30 mins + 10 disc)
Shapiro Campus Center Theater

Michael Aizenberg, Wyss Institute, Harvard
     Responsive Gel-Based Dynamic Materials

Sound Bites10:15 AM – 11 AM
Shapiro Campus Center Theater
            Five minute updates of current research

Coffee11:00 AM – 11:30 AM
Shapiro Center, Room 236

Panel11:30 – 1:00 PM 
Shapiro Center, Room 236
Industry / Academic relations
Rick Jacubinas (BASF), Darren Link (Raindance), Ian Morrison (Harvard)
Chris Harrison (Schlumberger), Patrick Spicer (Procter & Gamble)

Lunch1:00 – 2:00 PM
 Shapiro Center, Room 236

1 Talk2:00 PM – 2:40 PM  (30 mins + 10 disc)
Shapiro Campus Center Theater
Shekhar Garde, Chem & Bio Eng, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Hydration Phenomena at the Interface of Physics and Biology

Sound Bites: 2:45 PM – 4:00 PM
Shapiro Campus Center Theater
            Five minute updates of current research

Coffee4:00 PM – 4:30 PM
Shapiro Center, Room 236

Baskaran Wins NSF-CAREER award to pursue research on active fluids

Dr. Aparna Baskaran of the Physics Department has been awarded the prestigious CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation that is a highly competitive development grant for early career tenure track faculty members. This grant will fund the research ongoing in Dr. Baskaran’s group on dynamics in active materials. Active materials are a novel class of complex fluids that are driven out of equilibrium at the level of individual entities. Examples of such systems include bacterial suspensions, cytoskeletal filaments interacting with motor proteins and inanimate systems such as self-propelled phoretic colloidal particles. The theoretical challenge in understanding these systems lies in the fact that, unlike traditional materials, we no longer have the scaffold of equilibrium on which to base the theoretical framework.  At the practical front, these materials exhibit novel properties not seen in regular materials.  Further, they form the physical framework of biological systems  in that regulatory mechanisms modulate the mechanical properties of this material in response to environmental stimuli.  Dr. Baskaran’s research in this field will be done in collaboration with the groups of Dr. Michael Hagan, Dr. Zvonimir Dogic and Dr. Bulbul Chakraborty. It will enhance and complement the MRSEC research activities in the active materials thrust.

Figure Caption : Videos of example systems for active materials. A) A fish school exhibiting complex collective swimming. B) Swarming at the edge of an E. Coli Bacterial Colony. C) Cytoplasmic streaming inside the yolk of a fertilized cell.

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