The National Science Foundation announced this month that it is funding a new Physics Frontiers Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The Center for the Physics of Living Cells is one of nine Physics Frontiers Centers in the U.S., and the second to explore the physics of biological systems.
The $7.5 million award will be supplemented with a 10 percent matching grant from the university, bringing the total funding to $8.25 million over five years.
"As the title of the center says, understanding life on the basis of physics is really one of the great frontiers of modern science," said Klaus Schulten, holder of the Swanlund Chair in Physics at Illinois. Schulten and Taekjip Ha, a professor of physics at Illinois, affiliate of the Institute for Genomic Biology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, will co-direct the center.
Schulten directs the theoretical and computational biophysics group at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. This group has long fostered collaborations among teams of researchers with very different areas of expertise.
The new center will follow this model, building collaborations that can attack current biological problems with all the theoretical, computational, mechanical and imaging tools available to modern science, Ha said.
"If you want to study the complex interplay between many different components then you actually have to measure many different things at the same time," he said.
Illinois is one of few universities with a significant emphasis on biophysics, Ha said. Seven of its 65 full time physicists study biological subjects, and their collaborative efforts have led to many important innovations.
For example, while many laboratories use optical tweezers or fluorescence imaging to measure the behavior of individual molecules, researchers at Illinois (led by Ha) combined the two. Their resulting "force-fluorescence spe
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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign