Ruprecht Karls Universität Heidelberg

The Schwarz group

Our areas of expertise are theoretical physics, statistical mechanics, computer physics, theory of soft and biomatter, biological physics and biophysics. In our work, we aim at developing a systems level understanding of cell mechanics and adhesion. Such a framework has to integrate the effects of cytoskeletal dynamics, adhesion cluster dynamics, signal transduction and the extracellular matrix. To this end, we develop models based methods and concepts from mechanics (mainly continuum mechanics), stochastic dynamics and non-linear dynamcis. We also collaborate closely with experimental groups working in biophysics, cell biology, molecular biology and developmental biology. Further we have a strong interest in the physics of pathogens, in particular in viruses and malaria parasites, and how they interact with the immune system. Our favourite molecules are actin and non-muscle myosin II, but in general we like all biomolecules, because it is so amazing what they are capable of in terms of function and structure formation.

At Heidelberg, the Schwarz group belongs to the Institute of Theoretical Physics, where Ulrich Schwarz holds a chair for the Physics of Complex Systems. Besides being member of the Faculty of Physics and Astronomy, he is also member of the Faculty for Biosciences. In addition, the Schwarz group is affiliated with the Center for Quantitative Biology (BioQuant), the clusters of excellence STRUCTURES and 3DMM2O, the Flagship Initiative Engineering Molecular Systems (EMS), the Interdisciplinary Center for Scientific Computing (IWR) and four graduate schools (Heidelberg Graduate School for Mathematical and Computational Methods for the Sciences - HGS MathComp, Heidelberg Graduate School For Physics - HGSFP, Heidelberg Biosciences International Graduate School - HBIGS, Max Planck School Matter to Life - MtL). Physically, the group is located both at the Institute of Theoretical Physics at Philosophenweg 19 and at the BioQuant at Neuenheimer Feld 267.

Cartoon cell adhesion
Image: Cartoon of an adherent animal cell showing differently organized parts of the actin cytoskeleton leading to cellular forces being transmitted to the substrate: actin cortex underlying the cell membrane, lamellipodia pushing out the cell contour and three types of actin stress fibers (ventral stress fibers running parallel to the substrate, dorsal stress fibers running in z-direction, and transverse arcs). A typical force pattern of the cell that can be measured on soft elastic substrates is a couple of oppositely oriented forces of equal magnitude (anisotropic force contraction dipole). The Schwarz group develops theoretical models for all of these elements with the aim of a systems level understanding of cellular forces.