Netherlands:Postdoc position in Building minimal cells to understand active cell shape control at FOM Institute AMOLF

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Job description

The project is divided in three sub-projects that are each led by one team member, with close collaborations within the team and with the other members of the Biological Soft Matter group. Moreover, we will make a direct connection to biological functions by confronting our in vitro results with in vivo observations of active cell shape changes during fruit fly embryogenesis, in close collaboration with developmental biologists.

The aim of this subproject is to reconstitute cortical flows and membrane blebbing in well-controlled model systems, to resolve the microscopic basis of cell shape polarization. During cortical flows, a gradient in actin cortex contractility drives large-scale flow of cortical actin and myosin. You will use supported bilayer model systems in combination with microfluidic devices to reconstitute cortical flows. Contrary to cortical flows, membrane blebs form locally at sites on the membrane where cortex-membrane binding is transiently disrupted. You will reconstitute blebbing in giant unilamellar vesicles with an actomyosin cortex by using laser ablation to locally cause cortex disruption. By performing quantitative experiments on well-controlled systems, we will resolve the microscopic factors that drive cortical flows and blebbing, which will form the basis for developing physical models.

You will work in a team of two PhD students and one postdoc, embedded within the Biological Soft Matter group, to resolve the biophysical mechanisms that enable cells to actively control and change their shape by cortex-membrane interactions.

This project funded by an ERC Starting Grant aims to understand the biophysical mechanisms that enable cells to achieve precise and reproducible changes in shape. Changes in cell shape are essential for vital cellular functions, such as growth, division, and movement, during embryonic development and throughout life. Conversely, dysregulation of cell shape can lead to life-threatening diseases such as cancer and developmental defects. The main determinants of cell shape in animals and humans are the cell membrane and a thin polymer gel beneath it that is known as the actin cortex. This cortex has the remarkable ability to drive shape changes by means of molecular motors that actively generate contractile forces. Cells tightly control their shape by balancing active forces with passive forces arising from cortex-membrane adhesion and elasticity. However, it remains an open question how these different forces are generated and controlled on the molecular level, due to the enormous molecular complexity of cells. We aim to combine model biomembranes and active actin networks into biologically relevant cell-free model systems that will allow us to resolve the physical basis of active cell shape control. We will focus on cortex-membrane interactions mediated by the linker protein septin, which plays a universal and essential role in cell shape control in all animals.


FOM prefers candidates who have Qualifying experience (e.g. as PhD student or postdoctoral researcher) in a scientific research institute abroad.
We are looking for outstanding experimental physicists, physical chemists, or physical biologists with a strong interest in the interface of biophysics and biology. Since the project involves international collaborations, we seek a candidate with excellent communicative and organizational skills.
Candidates must meet the requirements for a doctors-degree.

Conditions of employment

You will be employed by the FOM-foundation for a fixed period of two years, accordingly followed by a possible permanent employment.
Your salary will be up to a maximum of 3.804 euro gross per month, depending on your level of experience.The salary is supplemented with a holiday allowance of 8% and an end-of-year bonus of 8,33%.
The conditions of employment of the FOM foundation are laid down in the Collective Labour Agreement for Research Centres (Cao-Onderzoekinstellingen), more exclusive information is available at this website underPersoneelsinformatie (in Dutch) or under Personnel (in English).
General information about working at FOM can be found in the English part of this website under Personnel. The ‘FOM job interview code’ applies to this position.

Contract type: Temporary, two years


FOM Institute AMOLF

FOM Institute AMOLF performs leading fundamental research on physics of Biomolecular Systems and Nanophotonics; two areas with key potential for technological innovations. The Institute contributes to knowledge transfer to industry and society and trains talented young researchers. AMOLF is located at Science Park Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and engages approximately 140 scientists and 70 support staff. See

The Biological Soft Matter group is an experimental research group that focuses on the physical properties of living cells. Our central aim is to understand the physical mechanisms that govern the self-organization and (active) mechanical properties of the cell’s cytoskeleton. We have two main research lines:

1. Cytoskeletal model systems: we reconstitute minimal cells from purified cytoskeletal proteins within cell-sized microchambers or liposomes. This approach enables us to dissect the roles of polymer physics, motor protein activity and active filament (de)polymerization.
2. Cellular mechanoresponse: we study living cells inside extracellular matrices that mimic the cells’ natural tissue environment. Our aim is to understand the mechanisms that underlie cellular mechanosensing and -response.

Key technologies in our lab are advanced microscopy and quantitative image analysis, optical tweezer manipulation, optical microrheology, and rheology. We strive to learn biological design principles that can be applied to new supramolecular materials with biomimetic properties, such as the incredible strength or active nature of living cells. At the same time, we contribute a physics component to the fields of mechanobiology and tissue engineering.

Additional information

Prof.dr. Gijsje Koenderink
Group leader Biological Soft Matter
Phone: +31 (0)20 754 71 00

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