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Faculty Biographies

Viola Vogel, Ph.D.

Professor, Department of Materials, ETH Zurich Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Switzerland

Viola Vogel

Contact Information
Laboratory for Biologically Oriented Materials
Department of Materials
ETH Zurich Swiss Federal Institute of Technology
Wolfgang-Pauli-Strasse 10
ETH Honggerberg, HCI F443
CH-8093 Zurich, Switzerland
Phone: +41 44-632-08-87
Fax: +41 44-632-10-73
Web site:


Research Theme

Despite advances in the fields of bioengineering, materials science, and cell biology, major challenges remain for engineering tissues that can replace functional human organs. Although a few materials have been successful for limited applications, it is perplexing that so many biomaterials with fundamentally different chemistries and surface textures all result in the same biological response: lack of vascularization and encapsulation within collagenous fibrils. The biomaterial scaffolds that are used in tissue engineering are generally meant to provide provisional substitutes for an extracellular matrix, providing a temporary structural support combined with specific biochemical signals that encourage cells to create their own extracellular matrix environment. However, the extracellular matrix is much more than a static mechanical support for tissues. It provides the physical microenvironment of a cell and is responsible for transmitting signals to cell membrane receptors that eventually reach the nucleus via intracellular signaling cascades. Cells are not only affected by molecular composition, but also by the topography and mechanical properties of their surrounding extracellular matrix.

Matrix-directed regulation of cell function, either for applications in tissue engineering or in regenerative medicine, thus requires a major improvement of our understanding how cells interact with their own matrices. Thus, the immediate focus of our research is to elucidate the biology of the cell—extracellular matrix interface. Cells exhibit a dynamic reciprocity with their extracellular environment: cells both organize their extracellular matrix environment and the extracellular matrix in turn provides signals that govern a host of cell functions that include proliferation, differentiation, migration, and apoptosis. Thus, the physical state of the ECM may be critical for transmitting signals to cells that control cell fate. The key questions we are addressing experimentally and computationally are how mechanical forces acting on proteins are converted into biochemical signals via partial protein unraveling (figure 1), and how forces affect cell signaling and ultimately cell behavior.

Background and Education

Viola Voel is a professor in the Department of Materials heading the Laboratory for Biologically Oriented Materials at the ETH Zurich, Switzerland. After completing her graduate research at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, she received her Ph.D. in physics at Frankfurt University, followed by two years as postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley. As faculty member, she joined the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Washington in 1990, with an adjunct appointment in physics. She was the founding director of the Center for Nanotechnology at the University of Washington (1997-2003) prior to her move to Switzerland in 2004.

Honors and Awards

1998 Jury for German Ministry of Science and Education (BMBF) selecting the Kompetenzzentren fÿr Nanotechnologie
1999 Presidential Committee of Advisors in Science and Technology (PCAST): Member of panel preparing for the Presidential National Nanotechnology Initiative, White House
1998-2001 Organizing Committee Member and Cochair, German-American Frontiers of Science, National Academy of Science
2001 National Research Council Member, Committee to Reshape the Education in Lifesciences, Washington, D.C., chaired by professors John Hopfield and Lubert Stryer
2001-2003 National Research Council Member, Committee on Microgravity Research, Role of Microgravity and Physical Sciences Research at NASA, Washington, D.C.
2003-2004 Human Frontier Science Program, US Representative on the Council of Scientists
2003 Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE)
2003 Member, European Academy, Section Nanotechnology Assessment
2004-2010 Elected Member, Gordon Research Conference Selection and Scheduling Committee
2005 Research Price, Philip Morris Foundation
2006 Julius Springer Award for Applied Physics

Selected Publications

Vogel V.
Mechanotransduction involving multimodular proteins: converting force into biochemical signals.
Ann Rev Biophys Biomol Struct. 2006;35:459-488.

Vogel V, Sheetz MP.
Local force and geometry sensing regulate cell functions.
Nat Rev: Mol Cell Biol. 2006;7265-275.

Thomas WE, Forero M, Yakovenko O, Nilsson L, Vicini P, Sokurenko E, Vogel V.
Catch bond model derived from allostery explains force-activated bacterial adhesion.
Biophys J. 2006;90:753-764.

Dusseiller MR, Smith ML, Vogel V, Textor M.
Microfabricated three-dimensional environments for single cell studies.
Biointerphases 2006;1:1-4.

: Integrin-head opening by force

Research Examples