About the center

The NSF Science and Technology Center for Quantitative Cell Biology seeks to quantitatively describe the physical and chemical processes that define the functional state of a cell. Our goal: To make 4D (space plus time) computational whole cell models of bacterial, yeast, and mammalian cells.

Two researchers talk in a microscopy lab

The center’s three themes:

Model made with Lattice Microbes

Theme 1: Computing tools

Researchers in this theme are developing novel approaches by integrating state-of-the-art computer tools for multiscale modeling from the composite particle to the coarse-grained atomistic levels. They’re using Lattice Microbes, NAMD, VMD, Martini, GROMACS, and computational microscopy.

Physical model of a cell

Theme 2: Revolutionary experimental data

To generate these models, our researchers rely on close synergy between computational modeling and developing unique and revolutionary methods to obtain experimental data. These methods collect precise information about the cell’s size, shape, organelles, metabolite state, proteins, lipids, nucleic acid composition, network of reactions within the cell, and interactions with its environment – all as a function of time.

Minecraft model of a cell

Theme 3: Science education and research

The long-range goal of the center is to systematically organize interactive activities in these themes to make and use predictions of the time-dependent behavior for every cellular species. This will allow for scientific explorations that might be otherwise impossible in terms of complexity or the need for multitudes of resource-intensive experiments.

About the team

Motivated by our success in simulating a live minimal cell and creating its Martini/GROMACS MD model, our highly qualified and collaborative team has expertise in computational sciences, super-resolution imaging, bioengineering, cell, chemical, and synthetic biology, data dissemination, machine learning, and visualization.

Our collaborators are ready to take on the challenge of developing quantitative models for more complex bacterial and eukaryotic cells. Plus, A new in-person seminar series (which already included STC European collaborators) and new research collaborations are increasing the number of interactions, including participants from minority-serving institutions.

Tools we use

We are fine-tuning the experimental tools that will accelerate our challenging computational work. We’re using a state-of-the-art MINFLUX microscope, allowing live-cell tracking of single molecules with a spatial resolution of 2 nm for minutes, while maintaining sub-ms time-resolution. We have obtained preliminary results, both on-site and with remote access, including data from our partners from minority-serving institutions.

Combined with existing cryo-electron tomography (for cell shape and architecture) and newly developed label-free infrared microscopy (providing spatial mapping of chemical compositions and metabolites inside the cell), we now have the data needed to continue improving our computer models.

As our models develop, we will simulate biological processes such as gene expression, metabolism, organelle dynamics and cell division under the influence of the environment, from the underlying molecular diffusion and chemical reactions within the cell.

About the Beckman Institute

Much of the center’s research happens at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology Beckman Institute on the UIUC campuson the UIUC campus. The institute uses interdisciplinary collaboration to produce scientific and technological advances that wouldn’t happen in siloed departments.

It’s a place in which researchers come from different departments all over campus—from chemistry to engineering to psychology, nearly 50 departments in all—to work together, each bringing a different piece of the puzzle to a wide range of major scientific and technological challenges.

The institute houses some of the most advanced lab equipment and technology in the world. It also provides places for both structured collaboration and informal ways for faculty as well as students to connect with each other.