ME Seminar on "The role of mechanics in the shaping of organisms"

Monday, November 19, 2012 - 3:15pm
ESB 1001


Prof. Otger Campas, UCSB Mechanical Engineering

Abstract:  In this seminar I will present two examples of morphogenesis, one at cellular scale and one at the tissue scale, and discuss the relevance of mechanics in the process of sculpting an organism. I will first focus on how to mathematically describe the process of morphogenesis in single walled cells, and show that the use of simple effective descriptions based on conservation laws provides an excellent way to approach morphogenesis problems. As an example, I will discuss the interplay between growth and mechanics in shaping a walled cell and show that our simple description can account for the morphologies of organisms observed across several species. I will then move on to animal tissues, in which a large number of cells self-organize into remarkable structures able to perform complex functions, and show that despite our considerable knowledge of the molecular aspects of tissue morphogenesis, very little is known on how cells sculpt the tissues in space and time, mainly because of a lack in technologies allowing the measure of tissue mechanics in vivo. I will present a new experimental technique that we have developed recently to overcome this problem, allowing for the first time the measure of physical forces between cells in developing (living) embryos.

Bio:  Otger Campas is an Assistant Professor in the Mechanical Engineering department at UCSB, where he holds a Mellichamp Chair in Systems Biology. His research group combines theoretical and experimental methods to approach a variety of problems related to morphogenesis and self-organization of living matter. Before arriving at UCSB in July 2012, he was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University, working with Professors Brenner, Mahadevan and Ingber. Campas received his B.S. in Physics from the University of Barcelona, and completed his Ph.D. in Biophysics at the Institut Curie (Paris), working under Jacques Prost, Jean-François Joanny, and Jaume Casademunt, studying how cellular movements and cellular organization arise from the molecular forces generated by motor proteins and polymerization of cytoskeletal filaments. Campas was the recipient of an NIH interdisciplinary research fellowship in 2009. In 2008 he spearheaded a highly popular event titled “Cooking and Science with Ferran Adria” at Harvard University, and was later co-founder of the "Science and Cooking" course and lecture series at Harvard University. For more information about his research please visit