Living cells are the building blocks of all life. They are highly mechanically active and sensitive. For example they can divide and proliferate, migrate to distant locations within an organism, engulf other entities and exert forces on their surroundings. The ability of cells to perform these functions crucially depends on how they physically interact with each other and their environment, i.e. how they ``feel’’ mechanical forces in their surroundings and how “squishy” they are, i.e. how they change shape and remodel in response to these mechanical forces. This touchy-feely response of cells has important consequences. For example, some adult stem cells can become bone, muscle, fat, neurons or other types of tissue depending on the "feel" of their physical environment. Also, how cells respond to physical forces undergoes important changes during tumor invasion and metastasis, the processes that make most cancers lethal. In this talk we will discuss how living cells and tissues use physics to their advantage and how physical properties influence their functions and fate.
Dr. Moumita Das is an Assistant Professor of Physics at Rochester Institute of Technology. She obtained her doctorate at the Indian Institute of Physics Bangalore, India on the physics of liquid crystals and colloids. She then shifted focus to researching the physics of living systems, especially cell mechanics and migration. She did her postdoctoral research at Harvard University, University of California Los Angeles and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (Netherlands). Her current research interests lie in the interface between Biology and Physics.