Graduate Student Jihan Kim has won the 2018 Physics Department Graduate Research Award

Jihan Kim in the lab

Jihan Kim works with Prof. Bo Sun on biophysical problems. Jihan’s research focuses on the mechanics of cancer-extra-cellular medium (ECM) interactions, which is one of the major factors dictating the physiology of tumors. This is a particularly fertile ground for interdisciplinary research, as physicists are  trained to analyze forces in complex systems. Jihan takes advantage of his physics knowledge in understanding deep biological questions.

Jihan’s first project is to measure the force exerted by cancer cells in 3D collagen matrices, which simulate a realistic tissue environment. He quickly learned MATLAB programing, and wrote a sophisticated image analysis algorithm to enhance images, and to determine the 3D deformation field caused by cancer cells. After publishing his first paper in PLoS ONE, Jihan noticed that a pair of cancer cells can permanently remodel a collagen matrix by creating a bundle of concentrated collagen fibers between them. He talked to a friend during the APS meeting about the observation, which eventually evolved into a collaborative project published in Nature Communications.

Having studied the forces generated by cancer cells and how these forces modify the cells’ environment, Jihan is working on his latest project. In this project, he studies how the environment direct cancer migration. Once completed, his PhD thesis will have a completed loop indicating the feedback between cancer cells and their physical environment.

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