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Otger Campàs Group

Physics of Embryonic Self-Organization and Morphogenesis

Portrait Otger Campàs

One of the most remarkable properties of living matter is its ability to self-organize into an impressive variety of forms and build functional structures. From the functional morphologies of tissues and organs to the geometry of cells, genetic information must be translated into the physical world to reproducibly shape biological systems. This process involves key molecular events, but also essential physical mechanisms that spatiotemporally guide the formation of these structures. Understanding such fundamental physical mechanisms, the physical nature of living matter, as well as the interplay between physical, molecular and genetic aspects of embryonic self-organization (i.e., mechanochemical feedbacks) remains a major challenge.

Our group has developed novel techniques to directly quantify the spatiotemporal changes of key physical fields during embryonic development. These tools open new avenues to approach the questions described above, as well as mechanobiology, in an in vivo context. Using these unique techniques, we are studying a variety of systems to better understand the physical nature of multicellular systems, the physical mechanisms of cell and tissue/organ morphogenesis, and the mechanochemical feedbacks controlling tissue homeostasis and growth. In particular, we are studying the role of fluid-to-solid transitions (jamming/glass transitions) in embryonic development, how cells spatiotemporally control tissue fluidization, the interplay between signaling events and the physical state of the tissue, the physics of tumor growth, cell morphogenesis, and more.

Methodological and Technical Expertise

  • Biophysical measurements in living systems (e.g., microdroplet techniques for mechanics measurements)
  • Zebrafish genetics, cell and developmental biology
  • Imaging and quantitative image analysis
  • Instrumentation and tool development
  • Theoretical and computational methods in biophysics


as of April 2021
Chair of Tissue Dynamics at the Cluster of Excellence Physics of Life, TU Dresden

since 2019
Associate Professor (step III), Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of California, Santa Barbara

Assistant Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of California, Santa Barbara

Research Associate, Harvard University, Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering

SysCODE fellow, Harvard University, Harvard Medical School & Children’s Hospital Boston

Postdoctoral fellow, Harvard University, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Ph.D. Biological Physics, Curie Institute (France) & University of Barcelona (Spain)

Selected Publications

Mongera A, Rowghanian P, Gustafson HJ, Shelton E, Kealhofer D, Carn EK, Serwane F, Lucio AA, Giammona J, Campàs O
A fluid-to-solid jamming transition underlies vertebrate body axis elongation.
Nature, 561:401–5 (2018)

Serwane F, Mongera A, Rowghanian P, Kealhofer DA, Lucio AA, Hockenbery ZM, Campàs O
In vivo quantification of spatially varying mechanical properties in developing tissues.
Nature Methods, 14:181–6 (2017)

Campàs O, Mammoto T, Hasso S, Sperling RA, O’Connell D, Bischof AG, Maas R, Weitz DA, Mahadevan L, Ingber DE
Quantifying cell-generated mechanical forces within living embryonic tissues.
Nature Methods, 11:183–9 (2014).

Campàs O
A toolbox to explore the mechanics of living embryonic tissues.
Seminars in Cell & Development Biology, 55:119–30 (2016).

Campàs O, Mahadevan L
Shape and dynamics of tip-growing cells.
Current Biology, 19:2102–07 (2009)