Graduate Students


 Xinyu Kong

Graduate Student, Biochemistry

Research Interest: My research focuses on endothelial cell mechanotransduction. Vascular endothelium is at the inner surface of blood vessels, which is exposed to a very dynamic force environment. Force perturbations including shear stress, cyclic stretch and hydraulic pressure help maintain endothelium integrity and regulate permeability. I am interested to investigate the biochemical signals that forces can induce to regulate vascular endothelium junction integrity and recovery.

 Ellen Qin

NSF Fellow
Graduate Student, Material Science

Research Interest: My research involves the design and implementation of biomaterials that incorporate cell-cell adhesion molecules called cadherins to improve the culture of neurons. I am investigating how cadherins sense and transmit mechanical signals between cells in tissues.

 Vinh Vu

Graduate Student, Biochemistry

Research Interest: My dissertation work focuses on the use of biophysical techniques such as single-cell manipulation and  quantitative fluorescence imaging to determine relationships between binding stoichiometry and binding affinity of membrane bound proteins. I am interested in how the cell adhesion molecule cadherin interact with growth factor receptors to regulate cell barrier permeability.


 Syeda Tajin Ahmed

Graduate Student, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering

Research Interest: My research interest is to study the binding kinetics of cell adhesion molecules, namely cadherins. By using Micropipette Aspiration Assay as a tool, I explore how different perturbations in the extracellular domains affect the binding affinity of cadherins, e.g., Epithelial ( E-cadherin) and Neuronal (N-cadherin)/ One such important perturbation I study is deglycosylation. Also, I use this technique to study the minimum required extracellular domain for cadherin mediated binding using N-cadherin mimetic constructs in conjunction with mathematical modeling and statistical analysis.
I also work with different techniques in surface science to study non-fouling mechanism of grafted zwitterionic polymers on surface to understand their resistance to protein adsorption, which has important application in making superabsorbent and nonadherent wound dressings, low friction lubricants in artificial joints, in nanotherapeutic delivery etc.


 Whitney Sinclair

Graduate Student, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering

Research Interest: The increased use of nanoparticles in consumer products and therapeutic agents, and the prevalence of nanoparticles as environmental toxins increases concern about the adverse effects of nanoparticles on human health, especially the lung. Lung-on-a-chip microfluidic platforms possess the capability to mimic physiologically relevant lung tissue. The goal of my project is to use a sophisticated lung-on-a-chip platform to elucidate mechanisms of nanoparticle induced inflammation and nanoparticle migration through lung tissue.

 Zully Perez Sierra

Graduate Student, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering

Research Interest: Biofouling is a challenge in the development of drug delivery transporters and biosensors. Very little is known about the behavior of proteins on surfaces due to limited instrumentation. Using a novel approach of fast relaxation imaging (FReI) we can directly image protein stability in material environments at submicron resolution.

 Brendan Sullivan

Graduate Student, Biochemistry

Research Interest: I am a first year graduate student interested in understanding the crosstalk between physical forces applied to a cell and the resultant biochemical signals generated. My past research was concentrated in the fields of biophysics, cancer biology, and immunology. As of right now, my current project is focused on how cadherin based mechanotransduction can control aspects of cell growth and global contractility through growth factor receptor mediated signaling. It has been shown that the cadherin proteins can directly couple with a variety of receptor tyrosine kinases, in particular the growth factor receptors. We are currently seeking to understand how stretching the cell/tissue can affect the association of these proteins, the global phosphorylation status of the growth factor receptor C-terminal domain, and the downstream signaling pathways involved in cell growth and contact inhibition. Future interests include investigating the interactions of adhesion molecules and RTK’s in 3-dimensional organoids to better understand their primary role in tissue/organ development.

 Gregory Schwarz

Graduate Student, Biophysics

Research Interest: I am interested in cell-cell junction forces of endothelial cells which are found in lung tissue. Mainly how cell-cell junction forces act when two cells are re-join together similar to how cell tissue re-forms during wound healing. I’m focusing on the dynamics of forces during junction recovery when cells are under different stimuli to see how such stimuli would affect wound healing.

 Roger Chan

Graduate Student, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering

My research interest lies in understanding microenvironmental effects on the thermodynamics and kinetics of biomolecules. Research has shifted towards developing novel materials for stabilizing and delivery of biological materials, and fast relaxation imaging (FReI) allows for local analysis of material environmental properties that impact the function of the biologics. My focus is to investigate the stability of proteins encapsulated in alginate hydrogels, which are prevalent as biomaterials and controlled drug delivery systems.