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Joel Voldman, Ph.D.

Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
NBX Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Room 36-824
617-253-2094 (phone)


B.S. Electrical Engineering, UMass/Amherst, 1995
S.M. Electrical Engineering, MIT, 1997
Ph.D. Electrical Engineering, MIT 2001
Postdoctoral Associate, Harvard Medical School, 2001
Assistant Professor, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, 2002
NBX Assistant Professor, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, 2004

Research Summary

Research in the Voldman group is focused on bioMEMS, especially as applied to cell biology. We aim to create technology to enhance the study of fundamental cellular processes, as well as for biotechnology.

The Voldman group is located in the Research Laboratory for Electronics (36-846) and has 11 graduate students and 4 undergraduate researchers. The students in the lab come from Electrical Engineering, Physics, Biological Engineering, and Health Sciences and Technology departments. Students are involved in design & modeling, microfabrication, and biology.

The Voldman laboratory performs research on bioMEMS (micro-electromechanical systems), applying micro-fabrication technology to illuminate biological systems at the cellular level. Specifically, we develop technology that enhances or enables the acquisition of information from cells. Our research builds upon various disciplines such as electrical engineering, micro-fabrication, bioengineering, surface science, fluid mechanics, and mass transport. We take a quantitative approach to designing new technologies, using both analytical and numerical modeling to gain fundamental understanding of the technologies that we create. We then take our designs through micro-fabrication to packaging and testing for biological assays.

Getting rigorous data out of a dynamic cellular system is difficult, and we are taking two approaches to overcoming this challenge: 1) developing easier and faster methods to scale up procedures that can interface with existing assay formats; and 2) creating microtechnologies to develop new model assay systems. The information that can be obtained from cells depends on how the cells are organized in complex systems within any particular environment. Three of the primary inputs into the system are: 1) the surfaces to which the cells attach; 2) the molecules in which they are bathed; and 3) the other cells with which they communicate. The strength of microtechnology is that it can control these parameters on a microscale that is within the size range of mammalian cells: 1 to 10 microns.

Microscale dielectrophoretic traps for manipulating single cells
Several of our projects utilize dielectrophoretic (DEP) traps to manipulate large numbers of cells on an individual basis. DEP traps use electric fields to stably hold cells in predefined fixed locations in three dimensions; they are a low-frequency analog of optical tweezers. We microfabricate our DEP-based traps here at MIT. With this technology we are creatingctivate? slides where we can trap, image, and then selectively release mutant cells from a population, combining the benefits of microscopy with flow cytometry.

Microsystems for modulating the stem-cell microenvironemt
We have also been developing microfluidics and cell-patterning technologies to enable us to precisely perturb the stem-cell microenvironment. Diffusible and cell-mediated signals profoundly influence whether stem cells decide to differentiate or remain as stem cells (e.g., self-renew). Our technology uses perfusion and cell patterning to exquisitely control the amount of this signaling on length scales commensurate with the size of the cells. We are applying these technologies to studying embryonic stem cell self-renewal.

Selected Publications

  • L. Y. Kim, M. D. Vahey, H.-Y. Lee, and J. Voldman, "Microfluidic arrays for logarithmically perfused embryonic stem cell culture," Lab on a Chip, vol. 6, 2006, in press.
  • A. D. Rosenthal and J. Voldman, "Dielectrophoretic traps for single-particle patterning," Biophys J, vol. 88, pp. 2193-205, 2005.
  • D. S. Gray, J. L. Tan, J. Voldman, and C. S. Chen, "Dielectrophoretic registration of living cells to a microelectrode array," Biosensors and Bioelectronics, vol. 19, pp. 1765-1774, 2004.
  • J. Voldman, M. Toner, M. L. Gray, and M. A. Schmidt, "A Microfabrication-Based Dynamic Array Cytometer," Analytical Chemistry, vol. 74, pp. 3984-3990, 2002.
  • J. Voldman, R. A. Braff, M. Toner, M. L. Gray, and M. A. Schmidt, "Holding Forces of Single-Particle Dielectrophoretic Traps," Biophys. J., vol. 80, pp. 531-541, 2001.
  • B. M. Taff and J. Voldman, "A Scalable Addressable Positive-Dielectrophoretic Cell-Sorting Array," Analytical Chemistry, vol. 77, pp. 7976-7983, 2005.

Last Updated: April 16, 2008