Welcome to the Mathijssen Lab @ UPenn!

Exploring the physics of life
DiscoverJoin us

NEWS: Publication in Nature Machine Intelligence:

Artificial microtubules for rapid and collective transport of magnetic microcargoes

Hongri Gu, Emre Hanedan, Quentin Boehler, Tian-Yun Huang, Arnold J. T. M. Mathijssen & Bradley J. Nelson

Our mission

The Mathijssen lab is interested in exploring the physics of life: we combine experimental and theoretical techniques across the disciplines of physics and biology.

Our main goals are to unravel the physics of pathogens, to design biomedical materials, and understand the collective functionality of living systems (out of equilibrium). To solve these multi-scale problems we use methods from microbiology, fluid mechanics, omics, statistical physics, microscopy and information theoryRecent themes include hydrodynamic communication, pathogen clearance in the airways, tuning upstream swimming of microrobots, and bacterial contamination dynamics.

These questions are both fundamental in nature (e.g. How can an intelligent system arise from the collective dynamics of its basic components?) and directly applied to our society (e.g. What is the probability of SARS-CoV-2 transmission within a food supply chain?). Our enthusiasm for research is driven by curiosity and the need for solutions that connect science with the challenges of the world we live in. Besides research, we like organising community events, lab visits and science hikes. 


Happening now:
Recent events:
Culinary Fluid Mechanics

Selected Publications

  • Mathijssen AJTM, Culver J, Bhamla MS, Prakash M, “Collective intercellular communication through ultra-fast hydrodynamic trigger waves”, Nature 571: 560 (2019) [10.1038/s41586-019-1387-9] [download PDF]
  • Ramirez-San Juan GR, Mathijssen AJTM, He M, Jan L, Marshall WF, Prakash M, “Multi-scale spatial heterogeneity enhances particle clearance in airway ciliary arrays”, Nature Physics (2020) [10.1038/s41567-020-0923-8] [download PDF]
  • Guzman-Lastra F, Löwen H, Mathijssen AJTM, “Active carpets drive non-equilibrium diffusion and enhanced molecular fluxes”, Nature Communications 12: 1906 (2021) [10.1038/s41467-021-22029-y] [download PDF]
  • Mathijssen AJTM, Guzman-Lastra F, Kaiser A, Löwen H, “Nutrient transport by microbial active carpets”, Physical Review Letters 121: 248101 (2018) [10.1103/PhysRevLett.121.248101] [download PDF]

Visit this page for a full publication list.

Join our team

Scientific innovation depends on the diversity of our team, in my opinion. We welcome people regardless of who they are and where they come from. We support each other’s differences, because everyone has unique talents.

Applications are invited from a broad range of academic backgrounds. We are looking for undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral researchers interested in (learning) the fields of biological physics, soft matter, physical biology, chemistry, engineering, mathematics and data science. Both experimental and theoretical or computational research positions are currently available: Click here to find out more and join us!

Physics of Us


  • Please sign up now to volunteer for the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP), to be held at UPenn in January 2024
  • Join us for the next “Kitchen Science seminar” by Swamy Anantheswaran about the physics of chocolate. Thursday the 4th of May at 2pm in lecture room A8 of the David Rittenhouse Laboratory (DRL).
  • Join us for the next “Kitchen Science” outreach event at Penn Alexander School, on May 10th, 2023.

Left: Illustration by Marina Muun

NEWS: Editor’s choice paper in Physical Review Letters:

Collective entrainment and confinement amplify transport by schooling micro-swimmers

Chenyu Jin, Yibo Chen, Corinna C. Maass, Arnold J. T. M. Mathijssen

Micro-swimmers can serve as cargo carriers that move deep inside complex flow networks. When a school collectively entrains the surrounding fluid, their transport capacity can be enhanced.

NEWS: Paper published in Nature Communications:

Active carpets drive non-equilibrium diffusion and enhanced molecular fluxes

Francisca Guzmán-Lastra, Hartmut Löwen, Arnold J. T. M. Mathijssen

Fick’s laws describe the essential physics of diffusion, but it is challenging to extend them to systems out of equilibrium. The authors derive the diffusivity of particles near active carpets – a surface covered with hydrodynamic actuators, which provides a framework for transport in living matter.


“Good nature and good sense must ever join;

To err is human; to forgive, divine.”

— An essay on criticism, Alexander Pope (1688-1744)