Biological Large Scale Integration

Dr. Stephen Quake
Stanford University

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Is biology a quantitative science like physics? Stephen Quake will discuss the role of precision measurement in both physics and biology, and argue that in fact both fields can be tied together by the use and consequences of precision measurement. The elementary quanta of biology are twofold: the macromolecule and the cell. Cells are the fundamental unit of life, and macromolecules are the fundamental elements of the cell. Quake will describe how precision measurements have been used to explore the basic properties of these quanta, and more generally how the quest for higher precision almost inevitably leads to the development of new technologies, which in turn catalyze further scientific discovery. In the 21st century, there are no remaining experimental barriers to biology becoming a truly quantitative and mathematical science.

Stephen Quake studied physics (BS 1991) and mathematics (MS 1991) at Stanford University before earning his doctorate in physics from Oxford University (1994) as a Marshall scholar. He then spent two years as a post-doc in Nobel Laureate Steven Chu’s group at Stanford University developing techniques to manipulate single DNA molecules with optical tweezers. In 1996 Quake joined the faculty of the California Institute of Technology, where he rose through the ranks and was ultimately appointed the Thomas and Doris Everhart Professor of Applied Physics and Physics. Quake moved back to Stanford University in 2004 to help launch a new department in Bioengineering, of which he is now co-Chair.

Quake’s interests lie at the nexus of physics, biology and biotechnology. Over the past half decade, he has focused on understanding the basic physics and biological applications of microfluidic technology. His group pioneered the development of Microfluidic Large Scale Integration (LSI), demonstrating the first integrated microfluidic devices with thousands of mechanical valves. This technology is helping to pave the way for large scale automation of biology

at the nanoliter scale, and he and his students have been exploring applications of “lab on a chip” technology in functional genomics, genetic analysis, and protein design. Throughout his career, Quake has also been active in the field of single molecule biophysics; he has focused on precision measurements on single molecules, and in 2003 his group demonstrated the first successful single molecule DNA sequencing experiments.
Quake received “Career” and “First” awards from the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health in 1997, was named a Packard Fellow in 1999, was in the inaugural class of NIH Director’s Pioneer Awards in 2004, and in 2005 was selected as an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. His contributions to the development of new biotechnology at the interface between physics and biology have been recognized by recent awards from the MIT Technology Review Magazine, Forbes, and Popular Science. He is a founder and scientific advisory board chair of Fluidigm, Inc and Helicos Biosciences, Inc (NASDAQ: HLCS).

Published on September 27th, 2016

Last updated on February 10th, 2017