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Training and Research Experiences in Nonlinear Dynamics

Dynamics of Soft Matter, Granular Matter, and Biomaterials

Wolfgang Losert

Professor Losert's research aims to uncover the behavior of complex materials, such as sand and the scaffolding that gives cells in our body mechanical strength. These materials exhibit surprising properties. Sand can support our weight when we stand on a sand dune, yet flow reliably enough to be used as a timer. The cell scaffolding can change dynamically and generate forces that allow a cell to move; for example, cell scaffolding can change to close a wound or spread metastatic cancer. Better understanding of the properties of these materials promises to give us more reliable rock avalanche hazard prediction, better control over wound healing, and new approaches to control the spread of cancerous cells. 

The Losert lab uses nonlinear dynamics and statistical physics to study a range of soft materials. Examples of projects that will be available for undergraduates this summer.

  • "Characterizing cell motion on complex surfaces"
    The Losert lab studies how mechanical forces and surface topography contribute to the operation of signaling pathways in cell motility. To assess the role of the physical environment of motile cells, the group nanofabricates controlled cell environments, images and perturbs cell motion on these surfaces, and uses modeling to interpret observed cell dynamics. The undergraduate student project would involve analysis of cell motion using Matlab and contribution to the cell motility experiments (depending on the student's background, more or less experiments would be carried out).
  • "3D imaging of digging in sand"
    The Losert lab is able to image how particles move inside a granular material. Using this novel technique, we will study how clams dig into the sand; for example, as explained in this recent article: http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2008/12/02/roboclam-anchor.html. The undergraduate project would involve carrying out 3D imaging experiments on digging in granular material, extracting 3D particle trajectories using custom Matlab code, and comparing the observations to models of digging.

Professor Losert has mentored numerous undergraduates, including over a dozen students through the TREND program. 

Additional information about Prof. Losert's research can be found at http://ireap.umd.edu/losertlab and by contacting Wolfgang Losert at 301-405-0629 or wlosert@umd.edu.