ETH Zurich Biophysics
ETH Zurich is one of Europe’s most prestigious universities. Its main building was built from 1858 to 1864 outside and above the city.
The ETH is known for its intense collaboration with industry and the research community. Its heavily subsidized tuition fees make it very attractive for international students.
Theoretical and experimental aspects
ETH Zurich (also known as Polytechnikum or the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) is a world-renowned university located in Switzerland. It is consistently ranked among the top universities in the world. It has produced and attracted many distinguished scientists, including 22 Nobel laureates, two Fields Medalists, three Pritzker Prize winners and one Turing Award winner.
The research at ETH focuses on the molecular and mechanistic principles that govern the function of biological macromolecules and supramolecular assemblies. Its researchers study these systems from a theoretical as well as an experimental perspective.
ETH is home to some of the most advanced instruments for protein and lipid crystallography, NMR, X-ray crystallography, and biophysical chemistry. It is also a pioneer in the development of targeted cross-linking mass spectrometry for structural biology applications. This technique allows the characterization of protein dynamics at a new level. The resulting insights are essential for understanding fundamental processes in biology and enabling translational medicine.
Membranes play a crucial role in many cellular functions, including separating a cell from the outside environment, maintaining fundamental differences between the internal cytosol and the extracellular space, and transmitting chemical/electrical signals. Their complex physical and biochemical properties make membranes one of the most attractive research topics in biology and physics.
The work of our labs focuses on the development of nanotechnological imaging and manipulation tools to explore the structure and dynamics of biological membranes. In particular, our aim is to understand how membrane proteins work collectively to guide cellular processes, and what role they play in complex lipid bilayers.
Our group develops new methods to investigate the mechanical properties of biomembranes with high spatial and temporal resolution, using correlated AFM-fluorescence imaging (CFI). We are interested in understanding how electric membrane potential evokes dynamic events such as morphology changes, curvature elasticity, or liquid-to-gas phase transitions. We also aim to develop continuum models to elucidate the molecular mechanisms governing this membrane response.
Nanotechnology is the exploitation of materials and structures on the scale of 1 to 100 nanometers, or one-billionth of a millimeter. This is the size at which characteristic structural features begin to differ from those of isolated atoms and bulk materials.
Nanoscale manipulation of materials allows the creation of structures with desirable characteristics that are difficult or impossible to produce at a larger scale. Examples of this include new electronic devices; advanced biomedical systems for diagnosis, therapy and tissue and bone replacements; and solar energy systems with unprecedented levels of efficiency.
In addition, nanotechnology is improving the quality of many consumer products, such as LCD screens on electronic devices that consume less power and are lighter and thinner; translucent glass that glows or reflects in different colors depending on the direction it’s viewed from; and self-cleaning cars with nanocoatings that keep them free of dirt. Nanotechnology also is advancing medical treatments, such as silver nanoparticles that smother and kill bacteria that cause infections.
The laboratory develops and applies bionanotechnological tools to image, quantify and manipulate membrane proteins at the cellular and molecular level. This allows us to investigate the functional role of these proteins in cell biological processes and in multicellular systems.
Bioinformatics is the linguistic side of genetics – it is about understanding how genes and proteins work, their structures and how they are interacting within a living organism. It is the current basis of personalised medicine, which allows doctors to treat patients according to their specific genetic profile, and it is at the heart of developing new drugs and vaccines.
A major challenge of bioinformatics is to recognise and respond to the enormous complexity and variation that living organisms exhibit. It is essential to avoid following rigid protocols, as this is often counterproductive. Instead, a dynamic and creative approach is needed. Bioinformaticians must be able to recognise when their methods are working, and also know when they are not.