Vinzenz Unger, PhD

Professor of Molecular Biosciences, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences; Director of Northwestern University Biological Cryoelectron Microscopy Facility

In the wake of “oms and omics” lurks the realization that even simple cellular processes involve the interplay between multiple multi-subunit macromolecular complexes. How these complexes function at the molecular level, how their spatial and temporal interaction patterns are regulated, and how specificity is achieved at any given moment remains a mystery, in part because low abundance, compositional and conformational heterogeneity of macromolecular assemblies cause seemingly insurmountable obstacles for the structural exploration of life at the molecular scale.

Faced by an increasing complexity at the molecular level, recent technological advances brought about a renaissance of electron microscopy, which armed with new gadgets and tools rapidly establishes itself as a key player in the battle to uncover the structural underpinnings of life. In contrast to other structural approaches, electron microscopy is extremely versatile, allowing us to explore biology from cellular to near atomic scales by analyzing images of samples that have been preserved by rapid freezing in aqueous solutions.

Exploiting the versatility of modern day microscopy, our lab is interested in understanding the mechanisms of membrane associated processes, which in the realm of structural biology remain among the most elusive, and most difficult to tackle. Exploring “life at the edge” – our work is focused on problems ranging from the transport of simple ions such as copper, to understanding how cells change the shape of their membranes, and the molecular basis of synaptic scaffolding. Extending the range of our work, we also pursue biochemical, biophysical and cell biological studies to put our structural data into perspective, and to obtain a fully integrated mechanistic understanding of the processes we study.

Contact Information:

Office: Silverman Hall 4619
Phone: 847-467-2178
Email: v-unger [at] northwestern [dot] edu