Anderson Biophysics Research Group - About Research

About Our Researchers


Principal Investigator

Rae Anderson received her PhD in physics from the University of California, San Diego in 2007. Her thesis focused on single-molecule studies of DNA dynamics and intermolecular forces. Specifically, she used single-molecule techniques including epifluorescence microscopy and optical tweezers to measure molecular diffusion and relaxation as well as intermolecular forces confining single molecules in entangled systems of DNA of varying lengths, topologies and concentrations. She was supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship during her doctoral studies.

Following her PhD, Rae spent two years as a postdoctoral researcher in the Molecular Biology Department at The Scripps Research Institute. Rae wanted to continue exploring single-molecule techniques but wanted to delve deeper into interdisciplinary research and the world of biological and biomedical research. Thus, her research at TSRI employed total internal reflection microscopy (a powerful single-molecule technique) to investigate the binding kinetics of the HIV-1 regulatory protein REV to viral RNA. This assembly is extremely complex and is required for HIV-1 replication. Her postdoctoral studies were supported by a National Institutes of Health Postdoctoral Training Fellowship.

Her current research builds on her doctoral and postdoctoral studies by using single-molecule techniques to investigate unanswered questions in soft matter physics and molecular and cellular biology. To learn more about her current research projects click here.

After first falling in love with physics in high school in Cincinnati, Rae continued to pursue physics as an undergraduate at Georgetown University. Rae received a B.S. in Physics from Georgetown in 2003, where her thesis focused on the diffusion of granular material. Her undergraduate pursuit of physics was funded by a Clare Boothe Luce Undergraduate Scholarship. Throughout her time at Georgetown University, she became even more passionate about physics and also realized she loved research and teaching. Because her undergraduate experience as a student, research assistant, and teaching assistant had such a powerful impact on her, she wants to excite that same passion in undergraduates at USD. She works hard to engage every student in each of her classes, encourages students to conduct research, and continually mentors multiple USD undergraduate research assistants from different scientific disciplines.

Besides her love of physics, Rae is fanatic about hot yoga and an avid runner. She also enjoys gardening and cooking in her free time. In fact, she and her husband (also a physicist!) have turned their entire yard into a fruit and vegetable garden with over 15 different types of fruits and vegetables from peaches, watermelon and blueberries, to spaghetti squash, beets and bell peppers. Yum!

Dr. Anderson's CV may be accessed here.

Current Researchers

Bekele' Photo Manas Khan, PhD 
Manas is an award-winning nature photographer with keen interest in statistical physics of soft matter (including bio-inspired) systems. While he loves designing new experiments employing microscopy and optical micromanipulation, theoretical modeling and simulations provide with complementary means to address relevant problems in the field. Manas received his Ph.D. from the Indian Institute of science in Bangalore, India. His professional experience includes postdoctoral research in University of Konstanz, Germany, and in UCLA. At USD he uses active nonlinear microrheology and confocal imaging to study dense DNA systems. His research profile and photography could be explored in his websites: and http://ArtlessBeauty.Net    

Bekele' Photo Bekele Gurmessa, PhD 
Bekele Gurmessa received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics from Alemaya and Addis Ababa universities in Ethiopia in 2003 and 2007, respectively, and PhD from the department of Physics at North Dakota State University in 2015. His graduate work focused on understanding the response of nanoscale polymer films and colloidal particle layers to mechanical deformation. He recently joined our group as a post-doctoral researcher where he is interested in investigating the mechanical properties of entangled and cross-linked actin networks using optical trapping-coupled with- fluorescence microscopy techniques. Bekele enjoys spending his spare time with his two sons and playing tennis.    

Shea' Photo Shea Ricketts
Shea Ricketts is a Biophysics major and Biomedical Ethics minor who plans to graduate in Spring of 2018. Shea became interested in biophysics when learning about its vast applications to numerous components of the world through the combination of biology, chemistry and physics. She began working in the Anderson Lab during the 2016 summer through SURE, a research grant funded by the University of San Diego. In the lab, Shea studies the relationship between force and deformation in the cytoskeleton. Specifically, she looks at variations in the relative concentrations, lengths and interaction of actin filament and microtubule networks. She hopes to take her research experience to graduate school in order to better understand how cytoskeleton rearrangement impacts motility which influences the early stages of metastasis, tumor cell migration. In addition to her academic career, Shea runs for the Toreros NCAA D1 Women’s Cross Country and Track program, is a core member of USD’s Society of Physics students and an active participant in Faith, Science and Reason Club. As a San Diego native, Shea’s an avid baseball fan (Go Padres!) who loves sunset beach runs, swimming in the ocean, and surfing with the sunrise.    


Cole' Photo Cole Hauer
Cole Hauer is a Biophysics major planning to graduate in spring of 2017. He first began working in Dr. Anderson’s lab in June of 2016, focusing his work on cultivation, replication and purification the DNA samples used in the diffusion studies on entangled DNA. He is passionate about working with DNA due to its importance as building block in all of life and hopes that his experience with DNA and the research done upon it helps to advance and grow our understanding of such a complex polymer. After school Cole plans on moving back to Seattle and pursing a job in the biotech industry. Beyond the lab he is an active member of USD’s Society of Physics Students and has interned as an aerospace design engineer. His hobbies outside of lab include hiking, sports, and volunteering for habit for humanity.


Ashley' Photo Ashley Messmore
Ashley Messmore is majoring in General Biology at UCSD and plans to graduate in 2017. She was invited to work with the Anderson group as a community college student and NSF REU researcher. In the Anderson lab, Ashley has been working to classify rheological and fluorescent characteristics of the mucus secreted by the marine worm, Chaetopterus variopedatus using optical tweezers and fluorescence spectroscopy. Her interest in the lab’s research began after learning of the interdisciplinary approach used to quantify mechanical properties of biological materials. In addition to her schooling, Ashley enjoys being a mother of two young kids, growing vegetables, painting in acrylics and sewing.


William' Photo Kathryn Regan
Kathryn is a Biophysics major and Math minor planning to graduate in Spring of 2018. She first began working in Dr. Anderson’s lab in November of 2015, focusing her work on the dynamics of crowded and entangled DNA. She continued her research in Summer of 2016 with the aid of a SURE grant, where she focused her studies on the dynamics of DNA and microtubules as quantified through single molecule particle tracking, specifically the diffusion and conformational changes of the DNA molecules as they interact with polymerized and unpolymerized microtubules. In the Anderson lab, she has also taken a lead role in the cultivation and maintenance of DNA stocks of various conformations and topologies. She is passionate about working with DNA due to its biological importance and complexity, and plans on carrying on her academic career in a PhD program in either Biophysics or Bioengineering in the hopes that her previous experience with DNA dynamics can contribute to developments in drug delivery or regenerative medicine techniques. Kathryn also serves as a Residential Assistant to freshmen as well as an active leader of USD’s Society of Physics Students. When she is not in lab, she enjoys hiking, baking with friends, and volunteering with local high school science departments.


Roberts' Photo Robert Fitzpatrick
Robert Fitzpatrick is majoring in Biophysics and is planning to graduate in Fall 2017. He has been interested in Biophysics since learning that the study combines the best of physics, biology, and chemistry to form a new understanding of our world. He hopes to attend medical school after graduation. Robert has been working in Anderson Labs since before his freshman year at USD and as his research continues so does his interest in the field of biophysics. His research focuses on understanding the viscoelastic properties of actin polymer networks and biopolymer blend networks. This research hopes to create a better understanding of cellular and molecular biology and can also lead to new synthetic materials based on the natural phenomena found in actin and other biopolymers. Along with being a full time student and doing research Robert is a member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity, a Red Cross Blood Drive Coordinator, volunteer at UCSD Hospital, and member of Society of Physics Students.


Past Researchers

William Weigand ,BA Physics '16.

  Donna Wu,Postdoctoral Researcher Fall 2015 - 2016.

Stephanie Gorczyca,BA Biophysics '16.

Tobias Falzone,Postdoctoral Researcher Fall 2012 - 2015.

  Cody Chapman, PhD student Fall 2010 - 2015.

  Savanna Blair , Undergraduate researcher Fall 2010 - 2015.

  Kevin Forey, Fall 2011 - 2013. During his time in the lab, Kevin was responsible for replicating and purifying the DNA samples used in the diffusion studies on entangled DNA.  Kevin has been researching for the Anderson Lab since Fall 2011.

  Kent Lee ,Kent Lee - BA Biochemistry '13 .Kent joined the Anderson lab in 2010.  During his time in the lab, Kent was responsible for bio-conjugation of proteins to beads, and writing experiment control and analysis code for the optical tweezer setup.

  Dean Henze,Dean Henze - BA Physics '13 .During his time in the lab, Dean was responsible for aligning and maintaining the optical tweezers setup. Dean intends to take his interest in physics and attend graduate school for physics. Dean has been researching for the Anderson Lab since Summer 2012.

  Isa Masongsong,Isa Masongsong - BA Biophysics '13 . joined the lab in summer 2012 as a biophysics major at USD and graduated in 2013.  She was responsible for much of the biology work in the Anderson lab at the time, preparing DNA and microspheres for analysis and experimentation.

  Michael Harlander-Locke graduated with a chemistry degree from USD. Michael will be attending medical school at UCLA with plans to be a cardiac surgeon. Michael researched for the Anderson Lab from Summer 2010 through Summer 2011.Michael Harlander-Locke aspires to be a doctor. Michael is interested in fitness and health and is currently pursuing a biochemistry degree from USD. Michael is in the USD class of 2012.

Marissa Reyes joined our lab as a USD PURE (Preliminary Undergraduate Research Experience) student. She is currently majoring in mechanical engineering at USD (class of 2014). Marissa researched for the Anderson Lab in Summer 2010.

Scott Wright joined our lab as part of a USD program that allows high school students from Mater Dei high school in San Diego to experience hands-on scientific research in a university laboratory. Scott will be attending Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, which awarded him an excellent merit-based scholarship, in Fall 2012. Scott researched for the Anderson Lab in Summer 2011.


Dr. Jennifer Ross is Associate Professor in the Physics Department at UMass, Amherst. We are currently collaborating to create active materials from microtubules and actin coupled to the circadian oscillatory KaiABC system from cyanobacteria. Click here to go to Dr. Ross' webpage.

Dr. Michael Rust is Associate Professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology at University of Chicago. We are currently collaborating to create active materials from microtubules and actin coupled to the circadian oscillatory KaiABC system from cyanobacteria. Click here to go to Dr. Rust's webpage.

Dr. Dimitri Deheyn is Associate Professor in the Marine Biology Research Division at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. We are researching the rheological properties and bioluminescence of the mucus produced by chaetopterid marine tube worms. Click here to go to Dr. Deheyn's webpage.

Dr. Omar Saleh is Associate Professor in the Department of Materials and Biomolecular Science & Engineering at UC Santa Barbara. We are researching the salt-dependent microrheological properties of novel aging DNA-star hydrogels. Click here to go to Dr. Saleh's webpage.

Dr.Gregory McKenna, is Professor in the Chemical Engineering Department at Texas Tech University. We are currently collaborating with McKenna to characterize the macroscopic rheological properties of entangled linear and circular DNA, and optimizing purification of long circular DNA molecules. Click here to go to Dr. McKenna's webpage.

Dr. Charles Schroeder, is Associate Professor in the Chemical and Biochemical Engineering Department at UIUC. We are currently collaborating with Schroeder to characterize the single molecule extensional flow dynamics and relaxation of long circular DNA molecules. Click here to go to Dr. Schroeder's webpage.