Welcome to TGLab
The Laboratory for the Physics of Life at Princeton University studies the basic physical principles that govern the existence of multicellular life, from the collective behavior of soil-dwelling amoeba to the development of the human embryo after the moment of conception.
With a systems biophysics approach, a core focus of the lab is to understand embryonic development (in eggs of the common fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster) from the perspective of a physicist. We see development–the complex process through which an organism grows from a single cell into a differentiated, multicellular organism–as a self-assembly problem. As such, we should be able to formulate and experimentally validate quantitative models that describe how individual cells interact and organize in order to generate complex life forms.
A similar self-assembly problem exists in the collective behavior of amoebae populations. Facing starvation, originally autonomous, single-celled amoebae will band together, forming a multi-cellular organism that produces spores. Amoebae offer a highly accessible experimental system which, in combination with a quantitative physical approach, promises to improve our understanding of cell signaling, early stages of cell differentiation and pattern formation, and the emergence of the collective behavior that leads to multicellularity.
Our research is mainly experimental, but with a strong theoretical influence. On the experimental side, we approach life or living matter the same way that other physicists look at the stars or study the properties of inert matter: push our ability to make measurements until we understand our errors. To what extend can we trust our measurements, which part of our error is due to the experiment, and which part is due to the seemingly messy underlying biological processes? We are building state-of-the-art microscopes and microfluidics devices, and make heavy use of tools from molecular biology and genetics. On the theoretical side, we design analytical and numerical models, largely drawn from statistical mechanics ideas, to test and guide our experiments.
The lab is officially part of the Physics Department, of the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, and of the Molecular Biology Department. Our research is highly interdisciplinary, working with students from many departments across campus, including physics, biology, computer science, engineering and applied mathematics.