The Laboratory for the Physics of Life at Princeton University studies the basic physical principles that govern the existence of multicellular life. A core focus of the lab is to understand biological development–the complex process through which an organism grows from a single cell into a differentiated, multicellular organism–from a physics perspective. As such, we formulate and experimentally validate quantitative models that describe how individual cells interact and organize in order to generate complex life forms.

Our main interests lie in:

  • multicellular pattern formation
  • transcriptional regulation in the context of development
  • molecular limits to biochemical sensing
  • emergence of collective behaviors in multicellular systems.

We work with a variety of organisms in the lab, mainly  the common fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, and the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum.

Our research is primarily 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 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.

Related People

Po-Ta Chen
QCB Graduate Alumni
Thomas Gregor
Professor of Physics and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics
Pauline Hansen
Graduate Student
Gregory Kimmerer
Graduate Student