Brillouin microscopy uses this scattering of light from sound waves to measure sample stiffness in 3D at microscopic scale, without requiring physical access. This permits measurement of sample stiffness in otherwise inaccessible places such as the interior of cells. This project leverages our recently developed Brillouin microscope to characterize the spatial profile of stiffness within extracellular matrices (ECM).

Cells sense and respond to the stiffness of the surrounding extracellular matrix (ECM) via a process called mechanotransduction. An increasing number of studies show that the mechanical properties of the ECM have a crucial role in determining cellular fate and various different cellular processes in tissues. One confounding effect when studying the influence of ECM stiffness on cell function is that the cell itself modifies the surrounding extracellular matrix, making it very difficult to know what mechanical cues the cell is actually subject to. Our Brillouin microscope offers the capacity to directly measure the stiffness of the ECM, and hence quantify how cells influence the mechanical properties directly surrounding them. This multidisciplinary project will investigate how to process information from Brillouin scattering in biological and biomimetic matrices, and use this insight to study how cells shape their own local environments.