Liza Mulder grew up in Toledo, Ohio and attended Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she discovered a love of physics. In 2017, she went to UChicago to join the PhD program in physics and learned more about areas of research at the intersection of physics and biology. She was fascinated by the diversity of questions in the field of biophysics and the creativity of the solutions used to investigate both biological and physical systems. In 2018, she joined the Esser-Kahn lab to work on a project that seeks to probe the fundamentals of the innate immune system by using Fluidic Force Microscopy (FluidFM) to target single immune cells in culture. She is excited to be working on a project with the potential to both elucidate the fundamentals of a complex system and inform more applied research in the field.
Liza's research focuses on studying the fundamentals of the innate immune response using Fluidic Force Microscopy (FluidFM). FluidFM technology allows for local chemical or mechanical stimulation of target cells with minimal disturbance of their environment and simultaneous monitoring with live-cell microscopy. Currently, Liza works with macrophages to study their sensitivity to pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs) by looking at the effects of concentration, duration, and spatial extent of the stimulation, and neighboring cell behavior (unstimulated or collectively stimulated). Macrophages serve an important function in the early immune response by detecting signs of infection and alerting and recruiting other immune cells to initiate a wider immune response. Liza wants to better understand macrophage sensitivity to PAMPs in the initial phase of the response, the role of environmental factors on that sensitivity, and whether the response is individual or collective. Traditional experiments either isolate the cells or stimulate them collectively, but with the FluidFM Liza can provide a localized stimulus to an otherwise undisturbed culture. This gives her better control over the cell environment the temporal and spatial extent of the stimulus, allowing her to investigate questions that would otherwise be experimentally difficult, and potentially giving new insights into the role of macrophages as “pathogen-detectors.”