Research in biophysics and structural biology is carried out by a wide range of groups throughout the department, including such fields of study as fundamental statistical mechanics and bioinformatics theory, using tools like single-molecule spectroscopies and scanning tunneling/atomic force microscopies, high resolution X-ray and high-field NMR, investigating physical aspects of viral infectivity, and force generation by motor proteins, to name a few.
Exceptionally, the large majority of our faculty in this area are involved in active collaborations with no fewer than several others, regularly dissolving the classical dividing lines between theory and experiment, physical and biochemical, in vitro and in vivo.
In addition, the work of the biophysics/structural biology group is enhanced significantly by state-of-the-art resources of the California NanoSystems Institute — in particular, advanced light microscopy/spectroscopy, X-ray diffraction/imaging, and nano/pico characterization core facilities — and the UCLA DOE Institute for Genomics and Proteomics, providing unique databases and software for analysis and prediction of protein structure and function.
Faculty Research Summaries
Professor Anastassia N. Alexandrova
Professor Anastassia Alexandrova and her group work on theory and computation of materials, ranging from novel catalytic interfaces to artificial enzymes, and to small clusters in the gas phase and variety of other contexts. The group explores the last frontier of inorganic chemistry, in terms of their electronic structure and chemical bonding. They also develop new computational methods for multi-scale modeling of complex materials in realistic conditions relevant to their use in technology,
Professor Anne M. Andrews
Professor Anne Andrews’s Lab seeks to understand how neurotransmitters, particularly serotonin, encode information related to anxiety, mood, and stress responsiveness. Nanoscale aptamer-field-effect transistor sensors, microelectrode voltammetry, and microdialysis methods are developed to probe neurochemical signaling at high spatial, temporal, and chemical resolution in vivo. Genetics, pharmacology, and developmental timing are used to investigate the etiology and treatment of anxiety and mood disorders and to advance personalized predictive medicine.
Professor Keriann M. Backus
In the area of chemical biology, the Backus Group combines chemical probe synthesis with activity based protein profiling and chemical proteomics to develop chemical tools to manipulate the human immune system. Research within the group spans chemical biology, organic synthesis, pharmacology, immunology, biochemistry and systems biology.
Professor Louis S. Bouchard
Professor Louis Bouchard and his group conduct experimental research in physical & analytical chemistry, materials science and bioengineering. The group has projects that deal with the development of novel materials, contrast agents & drug delivery systems for biomedical imaging, the study of flows in biological systems, high frequency electromagnetics, condensed matter and heterogeneous catalysis. His research group combines a range of laboratory and techniques from chemical synthesis to instrumentation development and various spectroscopies based on specific needs of the research. Projects are available for chemistry and engineering students.
Professor James U. Bowie
Professor James Bowie and his group are fascinated by protein structure, folding and stabilization. This interested has led them into three main areas: (1) learning how membrane proteins fold and how they can be stabilized; (2) the structures and biological functions of a biological polymer they discovered that is formed by a very common protein module called a SAM domain; and (3) developing and stabilizing enzyme pathways for the production of biofuels.
Professor Justin R. Caram
Professor Caram’s research leverages the detection, sorting, and timing of individual photons to unravel heterogeneity, complex chemical processes, and energy flow in nanomaterial and biological systems. He combines time correlated single photon counting (TCSPC) and path length interferometry to develop new spectroscopies that probe chemical systems across the visible and shortwave infrared. His group studies the influence of energetic disorder on optoelectronic materials and the complex chemistry of oxidative stress. His research has broad applications,from creating efficient light harvesting materials to understanding disease modalities.
Professor Robert T. Clubb
Professor Robert Clubb investigates the molecular basis of bacterial pathogenesis. In particular, his group studies how microbes display and assemble cell wall attached surface proteins, and how they acquire essential nutrients from their host during infections. The group’s study could lead to creating new inhibitors of bacterial infections. The Clubb group uses a range of biophysical (multidimensional heteronuclear NMR and crystallography), cellular, chemical-biology and computational methods in their research.
Professor Irene Chen
The Irene Chen Research Lab studies life-like biochemical systems to understand their fundamental properties and address emerging challenges in biotechnology and infectious disease. Our focus is biomolecular design and evolution in two nanoscale systems: simple synthetic cells and bacteriophages (phages).
Professor David S. Eisenberg
Professor David Eisenberg and his research group focus on protein interactions. In their experiments they study the structural basis for conversion of normal proteins to the amyloid state and conversion of prions to the infectious state. In bioinformatic work, they derive information on protein interactions from genomic and proteomic data, and design inhibitors of amyloid toxicity.
Professor Juli Feigon
Professor Juli Feigon and her research group study nucleic acid structure and specific recognition of nucleic acids by proteins. Her group focuses on determining the three-dimensional structures of DNA and RNA, and on investigating their interactions with various proteins and ligands, and to study nucleic acid folding.
Professor William M. Gelbart
Professor William Gelbart directs a research program, with Professor Charles M. Knobler, which features the interplay between a range of theoretical and experimental approaches to elucidating the physics of viral infectivity. Differences between the life cycles of DNA and RNA viruses — in particular, how their genomes are packaged into and released from virus particles — are investigated in terms of the differences between DNA and RNA molecules as physical objects. The tools and methods range from the statistical mechanics of simple models to in vitro systems consisting of a few purified components and to cell culture studies.
Professor James K. Gimzewski
Professor James Gimzewski focuses on nanoscale science and technology with an emphasis on mechanics on the nanoscale. His research consists of: (1) Nanomechanical dynamics and nanoarchitechtonics of living cells. This work is related to cancer, the action of drugs, environmental factors and other mutations in individual cells. The research pioneers the role of mechanics and cellular motion with the aim of developing new forms of medical diagnoses at the single cell level. (2) Use of biochemistry and AFM to gene profile DNA on the single molecule level. (3) Production of compact high energy beams of neutrons, photons, ions, and electrons using point source emitters coupled with piezoelectric and pyroelectric effects.
Professor Michael Robert Lawson
Normal and problematic mRNAs are translated differently by ribosomes, with the former being released for translation again and the latter targeted for decay. The Lawson lab aims to understand the interactions between ribosomes, mRNA sequence and structure, and specialized decay factors that drive these decisions, using a range of biochemical and structural techniques. Ultimately, a better understanding of these mechanisms could lead to new treatments for the 11% of heritable human diseases associated with premature stop codons.
Professor Raphael D. Levine
Professor Raphael Levine pursues research into electronic transport in two-dimensional quantum dot array systems that both hold promise for new electronic devices at the nanoscale and allow researchers to probe fundamental questions regarding electron transport in ordered and disordered lattices. He also investigates chemical reaction dynamics in extreme conditions, such as the hypersonic impact of molecular clusters on solid surfaces.
Professor Thomas G. Mason
Professor Thomas Mason and his group design and fabricate novel colloidal architectures and study their physical properties. The group specializes in making advanced uniform dispersions of solid particulates and liquid droplets. They have an active research program in microrheology, nanoemulsions, light and neutron scattering, microfluidics, and custom-shaped particle dispersions.
Professor Margot E. Quinlan
Professor Margot Quinlan and her group use biochemistry, microscopy and genetic approaches to study regulation of the actin cytoskeleton. The group is currently focused on Spire (Spir) and Cappuccino (Capu), two proteins that collaborate to build an actin network essential for early body axis development. Combining an in vitro understanding of the mechanism of Spir and Capu with in vivo studies of polar cells will provide insight into how the actin cytoskeleton is regulated and a broader understanding of cell polarity.
Professor Emil Reisler
Professor Emil Reisler and his group investigate cell motility and force generation mechanism of actin, tubulin, and a family of motor proteins. The aim of these studies is to obtain a structural description of the mechanism of motion and force generation. At the cellular level, the group studies the function, interactions, and structural transitions of the assembled protein systems.
Professor Jose A. Rodriguez
Professor Jose Rodriguez Rodriguez studies the complex architecture of biological systems – from single biomolecules to cellular assemblies – at high resolution. His work is largely based on diffraction phenomena and combines computational, biochemical and biophysical experiments. The development of new methods is central to this work, particularly using emerging technologies in cryo-electron microscopy, nano and coherent x-ray diffraction, and macromolecular design. Combined, these tools can reveal undiscovered structures that broadly influence chemistry, biology, and medicine.
Professor Hannah Shafaat
The Shafaat Group is focused on metalloenzymes that carry out small molecule activation reactions. We combine protein design with many types of spectroscopy and computational tools to probe catalytic mechanisms, which guides development of efficient and robust bioinorganic systems that can address challenges in alternative energy, sustainability, and human health.
Professor Ellen M. Sletten
The Sletten Group exploits the unique properties of fluorinated materials to develop diagnostic and therapeutic technologies. Research within the group encompasses an interdisciplinary mix of organic synthesis, fluorous chemistry, chemical biology, nanoscience, supramolecular chemistry, polymer synthesis, photophysics and pharmacology.
Professor Paul S. Weiss
Professor Paul Weiss leads an interdisciplinary research group which includes chemists, physicists, biologists, materials scientists, electrical and mechanical engineers, and computer scientists. Their work focuses on the atomic-scale chemical, physical, optical, mechanical and electronic properties of surfaces and supramolecular assemblies. He and his students have developed new techniques to expand the applicability and chemical specificity of scanning probe microscopies. They have applied these and other tools to the study of catalysis, self- and directed assembly, physical models of biological systems, and molecular and nano-scale electronics. They work to advance nanofabrication down to ever smaller scales and greater chemical specificity in order to connect, to operate, and to test molecular devices.
Professor Shimon Weiss
Professor Shimon Weiss and his group develop and apply ultrahigh-resolution, ultrahigh-sensitivity fluorescence imaging and spectroscopy tools to solving outstanding problems in chemistry & biology. Specifically, they utilize (i) single molecule spectroscopy to study conformational dynamics and transient interactions of proteins; (ii) superresolution and /or ultrasensitive imaging methods to watch life process in live cells on the molecular scale; (iii) activate and/or perturb physiological processes in live zebrafish on the single cell level; (iv) develop unique reagents and chemistries to carry out research topics mentioned.
Professor Todd O. Yeates
Professor Todd Yeates and his group focus heavily on structural, computational, and synthetic biology aspects of chemistry. His emphasis is on supra-molecular protein assemblies andsynthetically designed protein assemblies, and he conducts research in computational genomics in order to to infer protein function and to learn new cell biology.