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Faculty Biographies

Joachim P. Spatz, Ph.D., Habil.

Director, Max Planck Institute for Metals Research, Stuttgart, Germany
Scientific Member, Max Planck Society
Professor of Biophysical Chemistry, University of Heidelberg, Germany

Joachim P. Spatz

Contact Information
Max Planck Institute for Metals Research
Heisenbergstr. 3, D - 70 569
Stuttgart, Germany
Phone: +49 711-689-3610
Fax: +49 711-689-3612
Web site:

University of Heidelberg
INF 253, D - 69 120
Heidelberg, Germany
Phone: +49 6221-54-4942
Fax: +49 6221-54-4950
Web site:


Research Theme

The primary aim of the research in my group is to understand the dynamic regulation of adhesive contacts and of the cytoskeleton architecture of cells and its resultant influence on cellular activities. In this context, we apply new optical and mechanical techniques and use novel micro- and nanostructured materials to perform adhesion and viscoelastic experiments on living cells. Our research activities can be summarized under three main headings: adhesion studies using biomimetic nanostructured surfaces, mechanical properties of cells, and development of novel materials and techniques.

Cell Adhesion Studies Using Biomimetic Surfaces
Cell phenotype and behaviour in vivo can be strongly affected by chemical and mechanical signals received during physical contact with neighbouring cells, or with the extracellular matrix. For example, focal adhesion formation by fibroblasts found in human skin is dependent on the presence and appropriate spatial distribution of suitable integrin-binding epitopes on the extracellular matrix (ECM), and on the elastic properties of the ECM.

Using a unique method of nanolithography based on self-assembly of diblock copolymer micelles, we are able to produce surfaces that are patterned with gold nanodots of monodisperse diameter 1-10 nm, where the interdot spacing can be varied between about 15 and 250 nm. By combining this block copolymer micelle nanolithography with traditional methods such as electron beam lithography and photolithography, surfaces bearing a wide variety of patterns of gold dots can be produced. Due to the small size of the dots, they can be functionalized with biological ligands in such a manner that only one cell surface receptor protein can bind to each dot. This enables us to observe the effect on cell behaviour of the spatial distribution of ligands. For example, the movies show that human fibroblasts adhere to glass surfaces patterned with gold dots that are functionalized with integrin-binding peptides where the spacing between adjacent dots, and thus between ligated integrins, is 58 nm (movie-58nm), but not where the spacing is increased to 73 nm (movie-73nm), indicating that clustering of ligated integrin molecules is required for focal adhesion formation (figure 1).

Our nanopatterns can be produced on a variety of surfaces, including glass surfaces and poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) hydrogels, enabling the effects of substrate elastic modulus on cell behaviour to be tested in cooperation with the effects of ligand spatial distribution.

Mechanical Properties of Cells
Mechanical properties of cells and parts of cells are studies using a variety of force transducers. In addition to standard techniques such as magnetic tweezers and atomic force microscopy (AFM) in combination with fluorescence microscopy, we make use of force-measuring surfaces based on poly(dimethylsiloxane) pillars (figure 2), and holographic optical tweezers (HOT) (figure 3).

Biomimetic Protein Networks: Development of Novel Materials and Techniques
We are continually developing the micropatterning and micronanopatterning techniques used to produce our biomimetic surfaces. As well as the production of nanopatterned PEG surfaces mentioned above. Additionally, we have developed a novel instrument for measuring the viscoelastic properties of single cells (publication by Dr. A. Micoulet below), and are continuing to make improvements to the holographic optical tweezers (group of Dr. J. Curtis).

Background and Education

Joachim Spatz received his physics diploma from the University of Ulm in 1994, and a Ph.D. in physics (Dr. rer. Nat.) under the supervision of Martin Möller from the University of Ulm in 1996. In 1997, he continued as a postdoctoral fellow with Martin Möller. He was a postdoctoral fellow with Jacques Prost and Albrecht Ott at Institut Curie, Paris, in 1998. He was a group leader at the University of Ulm in 1999 and 2000. In 2000 he received the habilitation in physics from the University of Ulm. In October 2000, he joined the University of Heidelberg as associated professor (C3) for biophysical chemistry. In September 2004, he was appointed scientific member of the Max Planck Society and director at the Max Planck Institute for Metals Research, Stuttgart, as well as full professor (C4) for biophysical chemistry at the University of Heidelberg. Since 2004 he has been an adjunct senior faculty member of the Jackson Laboratory, Maine.

Honors and Awards

1996 Scientific Award of the Association of the Metal Industry Baden-Württemberg
1996 Scientific Schloessmann Award of the Max Planck Society
1997 Scientific Ph.D. Award of Ulm University for Outstanding Ph.D. Work
1997 Research Stipend German Science Foundation
1998 Young Researcher Award Ulmer Universitätsgesellschaft
1999 Reimund Stadler Award; Habilitation Award of the Fachgruppe Makromolekulare Chemie der Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker
2000 Gerhard Hess Research Award of the German Science Foundation
2001 Dozentenstipendium der Fonds der Chemischen Industrie (FCI)
2002 Alfried Krupp Research Award for Young University Faculty Members
2003 Otto Klung Award for Physics

Selected Publications

Walter N, Selhuber C, Kessler H, Spatz JP.
Cellular unbinding forces of initial adhesion processes on nanopatterned surfaces probed with magnetic tweezers.
Nano Lett. 2006;6(3): 398-402.

Calvacanti-Adam EA; Micoulet A, Blümmel J, Auernheimer J, Kessler H, Spatz JP.
Lateral spacing of integrin ligands influences cell spreading and focal adhesion assembly.
Eur J Cell Biol 2006;85:219-224.

Roos W, Ulmer J, Graeter S, Surrey T, Spatz JP.
Microtubule gliding and cross-linked microtubule networks on micropillar interfaces.
Nano Lett. 2005;5(12):2630-2634.

Micoulet A, Spatz JP, Ott A.
Mechanical response analysis and power generation by single-cell stretching.
Chem Phys Chem. 2005;6(4):663-70.

Curtis JE, Schmitz CHJ, Spatz JP.
Symmetry dependence of holograms for optical trapping.
Opt Lett. 2005;30(16);2086-2088.

Schmitz, CHJ, Spatz, JP, Curtis, JE.
High-precision steering of multiple holographic optical traps.
Opt Express. 2005;13(21):8678-8685.

Glass R, Arnold M, Cavalcanti-Adam EA, Blummel J, Haferkemper C, Dodd C, Spatz JP.
Block copolymer micelle nanolithography on non-conductive substrates.
New J Phys. 2004;6:101-117.

Cell spreading on nanostructure substrates (58 nm)

Cell spreading on nanostructure substrates (73 nm)

Research Examples

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