School of Humanities and Sciences
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Professor of Radiology (Molecular Imaging Program at Stanford) and, by courtesy, of Chemistry
Current Research and Scholarly InterestsProbe chemistry and nanotechnology for molecular imaging and diagnostics
Grant M. Rotskoff
Assistant Professor of Chemistry
BioGrant Rotskoff studies the nonequilibrium dynamics of living matter with a particular focus on self-organization from the molecular to the cellular scale. His work involves developing theoretical and computational tools that can probe and predict the properties of physical systems driven away from equilibrium. Recently, he has focused on characterizing and designing physically accurate machine learning techniques for biophysical modeling. Prior to his current position, Grant was a James S. McDonnell Fellow working at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at New York University. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley in the Biophysics graduate group supported by an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. His thesis, which was advised by Phillip Geissler and Gavin Crooks, developed theoretical tools for understanding nonequilibrium control of the small, fluctuating systems, such as those encountered in molecular biophysics. He also worked on coarsegrained models of the hydrophobic effect and self-assembly. Grant received an S.B. in Mathematics from the University of Chicago, where he became interested in biophysics as an undergraduate while working on free energy methods for large-scale molecular dynamics simulations.
My research focuses on theoretical and computational approaches to "mesoscale" biophysics. Many of the cellular phenomena that we consider the hallmarks of living systems occur at the scale of hundreds or thousands of proteins. Processes like the self-assembly of organelle-sized structures, the dynamics of cell division, and the transduction of signals from the environment to the machinery of the cell are not macroscopic phenomena—they are the result of a fluctuating, nonequilibrium dynamics. Experimentally probing mesoscale systems remains extremely difficult, though it is continuing to benefit from advances in cryo-electron microscopy and super-resolution imaging, among many other techniques. Predictive and explanatory models that resolve the essential physics at these intermediate scales have the power to both aid and enrich the understanding we are presently deriving from these experimental developments.
Major parts of my research include:
1. Dynamics of mesoscale biophysical assembly and response.— Biophysical processes involve chemical gradients and time-dependent external signals. These inherently nonequilibrium stimuli drive supermolecular organization within the cell. We develop models of active assembly processes and protein-membrane interactions as a foundation for the broad goal of characterizing the properties of nonequilibrium biomaterials.
2. Machine learning and dimensionality reduction for physical models.— Machine learning techniques are rapidly becoming a central statistical tool in all domains of scientific research. We apply machine learning techniques to sampling problems that arise in computational chemistry and develop approaches for systematically coarse-graining physical models. Recently, we have also been exploring reinforcement learning in the context of nonequilibrium control problems.
3. Methods for nonequilibrium simulation, optimization, and control.— We lack well-established theoretical frameworks for describing nonequilibrium states, even seemingly simple situations in which there are chemical or thermal gradients. Additionally, there are limited tools for predicting the response of nonequilibrium systems to external perturbations, even when the perturbations are small. Both of these problems pose key technical challenges for a theory of active biomaterials. We work on optimal control, nonequilibrium statistical mechanics, and simulation methodology, with a particular interest in developing techniques for importance sampling configurations from nonequilibrium ensembles.