Biophysics is an emerging subfield in physical sciences. While many different areas fall into that category, the Biophysics Lab in the Physics Department at Loyola University is devoted to cellular biophysics, and specifically to physical mechanisms of membrane transport.
All living cells in order to survive and to perform their physiological functions continuously exchange various atoms and molecules with the extracellular medium. Of particular importance are ions such as sodium, potassium or calcium. Their controlled exchange with the extracellular medium is crucial to action potentials in neurons, muscle contraction, etc. Since the cellular membrane is normally impermeable to ions, their exchange is facilitated by special proteins, called the ion channels, which are embedded in the membrane and form gated microscopic pores.
The focus of our research is to better understand the three-dimensional structure of these proteins and their nonequilibrium properties. We know they can detect certain environmental factors, such as changes in electric field, presence of certain ligands or even mechanical stress, and can open or close in response to these factors (ion channel gating). This way they can control and regulate various physiological processes. We use the technique of patch-clamping and recent advances in mathematics and statistical physics to better characterize and, hopefully, control the process of channel gating.
Biophysics research combines experiments, computations, and theoretical analysis. Student researchers in the Biophysics lab can choose between doing experiments (preparing biological samples, performing patch-clamping experiments) and computational work (analysis of raw experimental data generated from patch-clamping experiments, simulation of ionic currents, and building models of channel gating kinetics).
Several students from different departments have done research in the lab. Current student members of the lab:
Former members of the lab: