Pierre Ronceray (CPT)

Theoretical modeling and inference methods for the physics of
soft biological matter

Background

2021 - present | CENTURI group leader

2019 - 2020 | Postdoctoral fellowship at the Center for the Physics of Biological Function - Princeton University

2016 - 2019 | Postdoctoral fellowship at the Center for Theoretical Science - Princeton University

2013 - 2016 | PhD in Theoretical Physics, Université Paris -Sud

2011 - 2012 | M.S. summa cum laude in Theoretical Physics - École Normale Supérieure, Paris

2009 - 2011 | B.S. summa cum laude in Physics - École Normale Supérieure, Paris

2009 - 2010 | B.S. magna cum laude in Mathematics - École Normale Supérieure, Paris

Awards

2017 | Prix des Jeunes Chercheurs de la Fondation Bettencourt-Schueller 

2017 | Prix de Thèse de l’Institut des Systèmes Complexes Paris Ile-de-France, 2ème prix

2016 | Prix des Jeunes Chercheurs de la Fondation des Treilles 

Location

Luminy campus, Marseille (France)

About his research

Understanding the organization and dynamics of living matter, from the protein level to the tissue level, is a tremendous challenge from a physicist’s point of view. My goal is to identify simple physical laws governing this complex, heterogeneous, non-linear, out-of-equilibrium state of matter. I propose a dual theoretical approach to this problem. On the one hand, I address the direct problem: through analytic calculations, computational modeling and collaborations with experimentalists, I explore the assembly, mechanics and thermodynamics of cellular structures. On the other hand, I design methods for the inverse problem: inferring the dynamical properties of these systems – such as force, diffusion and stress fields – from microscopy data. Indeed, while these quantities are central objects in physical theories of soft biological matter, they are not directly observable: to advance our understanding of biological matter, novel data analysis methods adapted to modern experimental techniques are required.
This dual approach has already lead me to some of my most important past results. Indeed, during my PhD, I proposed a theory for the transmission of cell forces in extracellular matrices. The key result is a striking prediction that stress decay is anomalously slow around contractile cells , with important consequences for cell-cell mechanical communication and large-scale contractility of tissues. How-ever, when it came to experimentally verifying this prediction, I realized that there existed no method to measure local stresses in such disordered, nonlinear materials: stress cannot be “seen” by standard microscopy techniques. To circumvent this problem, in collaboration with the experimental group of Ming Guo (MIT), I developed a data analysis technique to infer local stresses using nonlinear microrheology in such networks, with which we confirmed long-ranged stress transmission.

 
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