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Physics of Living Systems

Find more information about the Physics of Living Systems group at the department of Physics and Astronomy at VU Amsterdam.

Physics of Living Systems consists of four research groups.

Our research groups

  • Biological physics of gene machines

    Visit the website for more information:

  • Single Molecule to Cell-level biophysics

    Group leaders Dr. Erwin Peterman and Prof. Dr. Gijs Wuite

    The research in our group focuses on exploring biophysical questions on the level from single molecules to cells. A central question is how protein and DNA structural dynamics are related to their function. The aim is to work with increasingly complex assemblies of biomolecules in order to investigate the emergent properties from these systems. This approach bridges experimental systems biology and single-molecule manipulation techniques. We are also focusing more and more on single-biomolecule dynamics in living cells or organisms. We use a variety of techniques such as super-resolution fluorescence microscopy, single-molecule fluorescence spectroscopy, optical tweezers, tethered particle motion, AFM, as well as combinations of these techniques. The data obtained are related to biochemical studies and used for theoretical modeling.

  • Theoretical Biophysics

    Group leader: Dr. Greg Stephens

    The Stephens Group is pioneering a new field – the physics of behavior: from individual organisms to entire societies. Overwhelmingly, the science of the living world is focused on the microscopic: the structure of DNA, the exquisite nanomachinery of cells or the pattern of electrical activity in the brain. Yet, these processes all serve larger evolutionary goals of the organism: to find food, avoid predators and reproduce. This is the behavioral scale, and despite it’s importance, a quantitative understanding of behavior is lacking. But how do we capture the emergent dynamics of entire organisms? What principles characterize living movement? Can we build an effective "physics of organisms" where microscopic details are often irrelevant? Research in our group addresses these fundamental questions with a modern biophysics approach and model systems ranging from the nematode C. elegans to zebrafish and honeybee collectives. We combine theoretical ideas from statistical physics, information theory and dynamical systems and work in close collaboration with scientists from the VU and around the world to seek unifying principles from novel, quantitative experiments of organisms in natural motion.

    Contact: Dr. Greg Stephens, email 

    Bachelor projects are possible in a variety of topics in statistical physics, information theory and dynamical systems.

  • Theoretical Physics of Life

    Dr. Chase Broedersz, Associate Professor,

    Website Broedersz Group

    Our group studies the Physics of Life. The functionality of biological systems, such as chromosomes or the motility machinery of cells, depends on their spatial and temporal organization. By understanding the physics of this organization, we strive to provide insight into how processes down to the level of a single protein control emergent large-scale behavior.
    We use a theoretical physics perspective to uncover the fundamental principles of living systems. Our research is guided by the overarching question: How does functional behavior in biological systems emerge from the collective dynamics of their interacting constituents?

    We investigate this question within three research areas:
    •    Cell and tissue dynamics
    •    Chromosome organization
    •    Non-equilibrium soft biological assemblies

    Bottom-up Theory and Data-driven Theoretical Approaches
    Understanding the physics of living matter poses fundamental challenges for theory. These are stochastic many-body systems operating far from thermal equilibrium, posing our systems of interest at the cutting edge of non-equilibrium statistical mechanics and stochastic thermodynamics.

    Recently, there has been a surge in the production of high-quality quantitative data on biological systems, such as chromosome capture experiments on bacteria or time-lapse microcopy experiments of the cytoskeletal machinery of migrating cells. These data reveal intricate stochastic dynamics and striking organizational features, but it is challenging to interpret such behaviors. We seek to unravel such complex data to uncover the physics underlying the organization and dynamics of biological systems directly from experiments. In addition to our work on bottom-up theoretical approaches, we therefore also invest strongly in data-driven theoretical approaches. We develop approaches to infer the large-scale organization of the bacterial chromosome from Hi-C data, determine the dynamics of confined cell migration, and to extract non-equilibrium information by monitoring the stochastic dynamics of living systems.

    Website Broedersz Group

    Projects and vacancies
    If you are interested to do a project at the BSc or MSc thesis level in our group, or if you want to apply for a PhD or Postdoc position please contact us.