Contera Lab

Physics Department, University of Oxford, Clarendon Lab, Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3PU


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We work the interface of physics, biology and nanotechnology.
We are particularly focused on the role of mechanics in biology and  in understanding how biological systems connect  the nm (molecular) level with the cellular and tissue scales.

Our main and most loved tool is the atomic force microscope -the AFM. We use AFM for quantitative studies of structures, interfaces and quantitative viscoelastic and poroeleastic properties mapping. 

The motivation is to use physics and nanotechnology (materials science) to understand biological problems and the other way around: to learn from biology to create new bioinspired materials and applications.

We like converging technologies and to live at the interface of disciplines.

More here.


Current projects:

Magnetically controlled nanostructured materials for biomedical applications
 Andrea Bonilla

Quantitative nm-scale measurement of the viscoelastic properties of the plant cell wall. Collaboration with Ian Moore in Plant Sciences.
 Funded by the Leverhulme Trust.
Jacob Seifert
Electrophysiological-mechanical coupled pulses in neural membranes: a new paradigm for clinical therapy of SCI and TBI  (Zeinab A. R.) Funded by EPSRC.
aims at developing and utilising state-of-the-art modelling approaches for the study of electrophysiological and mechanical coupling in a healthy and mechanically damaged axon, nerve and, eventually, spinal cord and brain white-matter tract. With Prof Antoine Jerusalem (Engineering Science Oxford) Two teams of clinical project partners in Oxford and Cambridge will participate in the analysis of the results for direct applications in a clinical setting. The clinical support for the research at Oxford will be provided by Dr Damian Jenkins and Mr Tim Lawrence of Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
Physics of the cryopreservation of cell membranes.
Calum Gabbutt
Mechanical properties of tissues and tissue engineering constructs for diagnostic applications.
Alba  Rosa Piacenti


Some of our work in the past includes:

Linking mechanics, interfaces, function and cooperativity of membrane proteins with AFM We have used the atomic force microscope (AFM) to directly quantify the mechanical properties of artificial (Zhou Nanoscale 2015)  and native membranes (Voitchovsky Biophys J 2006) using AFM-nanoindentation.  We have been able to relate the mechanical properties of a single membrane protein to its local interface properties(Contera Nanoscale 2010) , dynamics using high-speed AFM (Voitchovsky Soft Matter 2009); Yamashita J Struct Biol 2009)  individual function and the coupling with neighboring proteins (Voitchovsky Soft Matter 2009)

Using a quantitative method to determine solid-liquid adhesion energy with sub-nm resolution (Voitchovsky Nature Nanotechnology 2010) we have quantified the complex electrostatics of membrane proteins measuring ionic effects on the water structure at the interface  (Contera Nanoscale 2010).

Mechanical properties of living cells Using multifrequency AFM we are to quantitatively map the nanomechanical properties of living cells and tissues with unprecedented speed and accuracy (Raman Nature Nanotechnology 2011) Using these multifrequency techniques we assess the local elastic and viscous ( Estorage and Eloss) mechanical effect of ultrasound vibration on the membrane which results on a viscoelastic stiffening.


Other recent work includes

full Effect of fullerenes on the mechanical properties of cell membranes (Zhou Nanoscale 2015)
The subnanoscale free volume and mechanical properties of hydrogels (chitosan) and the effect of hydrophobic and hydrophilic carbon nanotubes on the hydrogel capacity for transporting molecules such as glucose and oxygen. (Axpe J Mat Chem 2015)

We have also contributed to the development of  a novel diamagnetic trap (Nyugen RSC Advances 2016): demonstrating, for the first time, confinement of the orientation of micron-sized graphitic flakes to a well-defined plane. We orient and rotationally trap lipid-coated highly ordered pyrolytic graphite (HOPG) micro-flakes in aqueous solution using a combination of uniform magnetic and AC electric fields and exploiting the anisotropic diamagnetic and electrical properties of HOPG. This work was led by Isabel Llorente Garcia (UCL Physics)


Publications, here.



Current members:


Zeinab A. R, POSTDOC . Funded by the NEUROPULSE project in collaboration with Antoine Jerusalem in Engineering

Ileana Andrea Bonilla Brunner, DPhil student funded by CONACYT. Physical aspects of biomimetic drug delivery.

Jacob Seifert, DPhil, funded by the Leverhulme trust. Plant cell wall mechanics, Cosupervised with Ian Moore in Oxford Plant Sciences

Alba Rosa Piacenti  DPhil

Calum Gabutt MPhys

Laura Santana Gonzalez, Erasmus + from Universidad Pablo Olavide Seville. Funded by the Oxford Martin School visiting fellowship. From September 2016


Susmitha Sayana, visiting from Columbia University

Dr Isabel Llorente-Garcia academic visitor from UCL Physics

Sonia Contera. PI



Previous Members include:

Michael Lherbette, Jemma Brown (MPhys), Prof Javier Garcia Martinez (visiting from U de Alicante, Oxford Martin School Fellow), Kislon Voitchovsky, Hilary Hamnett, Amadeus Stevenson, Mar Alvarez (visiting), Eneko Axpe (visiting from UPC-EHU), Arvind Raman (Visiting Wadham College Keeley Fellow), Maria de Santo (FP7), Alessandra Apicella, Jihan Zhou (CSC), Chikara Dohno (visiting from Sanken, Osaka University), Shingo Makishi, Loic Bugnicourt, Charlie Daniels, Ryota Hayashui (from Osaka Unviersity funded by JSPS), Armando Mendez (University Nuevo Leon, funded by CONACYT), Kaho Kamada, visiting SANKEN, Osaka University


Oxford Martin Programme on Nanotechnology


Webcasts, videos, talks,books, etc. here.




International Brain Mechanics and Trauma Lab

JSPS Core to Core Programme for Next Generation Sensor Devices for a Healthier, Safer Society

Oxford Martin School

Oxford Solid Mechanics


Current Collaborators

Prof Antoine Jerusalem, Oxford Department of Engineering Science through NEUROPULSE, EPSRC project.

Prof Ian Moore, Oxford Plant Sciences though Leverhulme Trust project

Prof Kazukiko Matsumoto. SANKEN, Osaka University. Graphene based biosensing

Dr Isabel Llorente (UCL) in micro and nanomanipulation of carbon nanoparticles in solution

Dr Chikara Dohno from SANKEN, Osaka University, DNA nanostructures on lipid bilayers.

Media coverage and contributions (under construction)

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