Forde, Nancy - Simon Fraser University


Building responsive materials: lessons from biology


Over billions of years, biology has evolved remarkable nanoscale structures which are able to sense their environment, transport cargo, and engage in complex feedback cycles that regulate response to changes in their surroundings. As we seek renewable materials for a diversity of functions, let’s look to biology for inspiration! I will highlight examples of how biology uses proteins for functions including building responsive structural scaffolds and achieving directed nanoscale transport. I will also describe how we as physicists can provide quantitative insight into how these systems function, giving examples from my own research group of single-molecule experiments and analysis techniques.

Short bio

Nancy Forde is Professor of Physics at Simon Fraser University, where she leads an interdisciplinary research group at the intersection of physics, biology and chemistry. She obtained a BSc in Chemical Physics from the University of Toronto and a PhD in Chemistry from the University of Chicago, followed by postdoctoral research in Biophysics at UC Berkeley; like many biophysics researchers, she has never formally studied biology. Her group builds instruments to interrogate the mechanical response of proteins (the most recent of which is a centrifuge force microscope capable of withstanding massive accelerations of 1000g). Her group’s studies of the mechanics of single collagen proteins are transforming our understanding of collagen’s function as the physical building blocks of our tissues, while their aims of building synthetic molecular motors are informing the function of these nanoscale machines.

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