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Opportunity at National Institute of Standards and Technology   NIST

Microbial nanomotion and life – Insight and control through noise measurements


Material Measurement Laboratory, Applied Chemicals and Materials Division

opportunity location
50.64.72.B8153 Boulder, CO

Please note: This Agency only participates in the February and August reviews.


name email phone
Ward L. Johnson 303.497.5805


Nanometer-scale metabolically-driven fluctuations of organisms correlate with life, but the biological underpinnings of these correlations remain poorly understood at the cellular level [1]. Over the past decade, measurements with several techniques have shown that nanomotion of microbes and sub-cellular organelles ceases at cellular death, and this has led to interest in using this effect in a variety of applications, including rapid cost-effective clinical antimicrobial susceptibility testing (AST), disease diagnostics, and research into cellular disfunction in diseases. At NIST, a highly sensitive technique was invented for sensing nanomotion of cell populations through measurements of phase noise of a resonant crystal on which cells are adhered, and correlations of noise with antibiotically-induced cell death were demonstrated with nonmotile E. coli [2,3,4]. This approach was subsequently advanced by Microbial Pulse Diagnostics LLC, with the objective of commercialization for AST [5]. Research supporting this application and others is now transitioning back to NIST in collaboration with the Molecular Cellular and Developmental Biology Department at CU-Boulder, a team with a unique combination of expertise in microbiology, acoustics, and phase noise. We seek a postdoctoral fellow with interest in exploring biophysical mechanisms of nanomotion and/or associated responses of cells to various chemical and physical environments. Options for a postdoctoral proposal include (but are not limited to) 1) the use of cutting-edge microbial genetic and omics tools to discover genes, proteins and molecular machines required for nanomotion, 2) identification of species-specific signatures in phase-noise spectra to advance understanding of biophysical mechanisms and applications such as AST, and 3) exploration of the application of nanomotion measurements to a specific area, such as clinical or research-based AST/diagnostics, industrial quality control of probiotics, or prevention of microbially induced corrosion (MIC) of physical infrastructure.

[1] P. Parmar et al., “Mitochondrial nanomotion measured by optical microscopy,” Frontiers in Microbiology, March 2023, DOI:10.3389/fmicb.2023.1133773

[2] W. Johnson, D. C. France, T. L. Kirschling, & F. L. Walls, “Resonator and process for performing biological assay,” U.S Patent US 9,725,752 B2 [2017].

[3] W. L. Johnson et al., “Sensing bacterial vibrations and early response to antibiotics with phase noise of a resonant crystal,” Scientific Reports, 7, 12138 [2017].

[4] NIST News, “NIST’s quick test may speed antibiotic treatment and combat drug resistance,” September 2017.

[5] F. L. Walls et al., “Rapid detection of bacterial response to antibiotics through induced phase noise of a resonant crystal,” 2021 Joint Conference of the European Frequency and Time Forum and IEEE International Frequency Control Symposium. DOI: 10.1109/EFTF/IFCS52194.2021.9604273 

Biosensors; Microbiology; Acoustic resonators; Phase noise; Cells; Nanomotion; Molecular machines; Antimicrobial susceptibility testing; Disease diagnostics; Microbially induced corrosion; MIC; Probiotics


Citizenship:  Open to U.S. citizens
Level:  Open to Postdoctoral applicants


Base Stipend Travel Allotment Supplementation
$74,950.00 $3,000.00
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