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School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering PhD Final Oral Defense Optical Methods for Studying Cell Mechanics by Yunze Yang March 29, 2016 1:00 pm ERC 490 Committee: Dr. Nongjian Tao (chair) Dr. Shaopeng Wang Dr. Michael Goryll Dr. Jennie Si Abstract Mechanical properties of cells are important in maintaining physiological functions of biological systems. Quantitative measurement and analysis of mechanical properties can help understand cellular mechanics and its functional relevance and discover physical biomarkers for diseases monitoring and therapeutics. This dissertation presents a work to develop optical methods for studying cell mechanics which encompasses four applications. Surface plasmon resonance microscopy based optical method has been applied to image intracellular motions and cell mechanical motion. This label-free technique enables ultrafast imaging with extremely high sensitivity in detecting cell deformation. The technique was first applied to study intracellular transportation. Organelle transportation process and displacement steps of motor protein can be tracked using this method. The second application is to study heterogeneous subcellular membrane displacement induced by membrane potential (de)polarization. The application can map the amplitude and direction of cell deformation. The electromechanical coupling of mammalian cells was also observed. The third application is for imaging electrical activity in single cells with sub-millisecond resolution. This technique can fast record actions potentials and also resolve the fast initiation and propagation of electromechanical signals within single neurons. Brightfield optical imaging approach has been applied to the mechanical wave visualization that associated with action potential in the fourth application. Neuron-to-neuron viability of membrane displacement was revealed and heterogeneous subcellular response was observed. All these works shed light on the possibility of using optical approaches to study millisecond-scale and sub-nanometer-scale mechanical motions. These studies revealed ultrafast and ultra-small mechanical motions at the cellular level, including motor protein-driven motions and electromechanical coupled motions. The observations will help understand cell mechanics and its biological functions. These optical approaches will also become powerful tools for elucidating the interplay between biological and physical functions.