MicroN BASE Laboratory — Copy


Micro/NanoScale Biotic/Abiotic Systems Engineering Lab


Department of Mechanical Engineering
239 Kelly Hall
Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061

Bahareh Behkam, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

The Micro/NanoScale Biotic/Abiotic Systems Engineering Laboratory was founded in 2009 by Professor Behkam within the mechanical engineering department. Our lab research interest is in experimental and theoretical investigation of phenomena at the interface of biological and synthetic systems (or bio-hybrid engineering) at the micro and nanoscale.

Current research activities can be divided into two broad categories: (1) Developing bio-hybrid engineered systems in which biological components are utilized for actuation, sensing, communication, and control (e.g. bacteria-enabled autonomous drug delivery systems for cancer therapy) (2) Studying mechanism of adhesion, motility and sensing in mammalian cells and unicellular microorganisms (e.g. effect of surface nanotopography on fungal biofilm formation). We utilize 2D and 3D microfluidic platforms to establish well-defined and repeatable test environments for most of our projects.


  • 7/8/16 – Carmen Damico successfully defended her M.S. thesis. Congratulations Carmen!
  • 6/1/16 – Congratulations to Zhou Ye for publication of Spun-wrapped aligned nanofiber (SWAN) lithography for fabrication of micro/nano-structures on 3D objects in Nanoscale.
  • 5/27/16 – Kellen Weigand (in BioEng., University of Maryland) joins our lab as a summerREU trainee, Welcome Kellen!
  • 4/5/16 – Dr. Behkam gives an invited seminar in the Department of Chemical Engineering, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
  • 3/29/16 – Eric Leaman and Carmen Damico receive honorable mention for their NSF GRFP applications. Congratulations Eric and Carmen!
  • 3/28/16 -Dr. Behkam gives an invited seminar at the Virginia Tech ICTAS Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology (VTSuN)
  • 02/18/16 – Congratulations to SeungBeum Suh and alumnus Dr. Aziz Traore for publication of our bacteria chemotaxis-based nanoparticle sorting method in Lab on Chip.

Lab Equipment

BSL-2 Cell Culture Facility

Full range of measurement equipment

Inverted Microscope (Zeiss Axio Observer. D1)

Stereo Microscope (Zeiss Stereo Discovery. V20)

Our Research

  • Bacteria-Based Micro/nanoscale Bio-Hybrid Robots (BacteriaBots)

    Bacteria-Based Micro/nanoscale Bio-Hybrid Robots (BacteriaBots)

    We harness the sophisticated and robust machinery of bacteria for actuation, sensing, communication, and control of a class of micron scale (characteristic length: 2-100 µm) robotic systems called BacteriaBots. BacteriaBots are comprised of engineered micro/nano-particles of various sizes and shapes interfaced with live engineered bacteria. Utilizing methods from microrobotics, bioengineering, biology, and physical chemistry, many different aspects of such bio-hybrid systems such as the geometry of the robot body and bacterial phenotypic behaviors can be controlled for a wide variety of applications. In this project, the effect of body shape (physical cue), gradients of chemo-effectors (chemical cue) and cell-cell communication on the motile behavior of BacteriaBots at single agent and population scale is being investigated. Microfluidic platforms are utilized to established well-defined and precisely controlled microenvironment for conducting such experiments.

  • Distributed Control Strategies Inspired by Bacteria Population Dynamics

    Distributed Control Strategies Inspired by Bacteria Population Dynamics

    Mesoscale robotic systems are favored for a variety of applications including minimally invasive treatment of diseases, environmental monitoring, and reconnaissance. These miniature systems naturally have limited capabilities; thus, swarms of hundreds or perhaps more of such systems are needed to collectively accomplish a significant task. Simpler and cheaper agents will be critical to the feasibility of swarms with large number of agents.
    Biological cooperative communities can provide great insights for development of novel and scalable mathematical strategies for robust control of robotic swarms. In particular, study of bacteria population dynamics demonstrates that very simple control schemes can elicit relatively complex behaviors and that stochastic mobility and multiplicity can be effectively harnessed to scout large areas, cooperatively construct structures, and transport mass and energy over length scales thousands of times larger than each bacterium. We are currently investigating how high gain sensory response of each individual agent combined with programmable communication and collaboration among agents affect collective swarm behavior in complex environments.

  • Bacteria-based Drug Delivery System for Cancer Therapy

    Bacteria-based Drug Delivery System for Cancer Therapy

    Cancer is the second cause of overall mortality in the world and systemic chemotherapy is a major therapeutic approach for nearly all types and stages of cancer. Although limitations of chemotherapy have often been ascribed to drug resistance at the cellular level, there is substantial evidence suggesting that tumor microenvironment also mediate resistance of solid tumors to cancer therapy by limiting the drugs from penetrating in tumor tissue and reaching cells far from blood vessels in lethal concentration.  The low selectivity of anti-cancer drugs with respect to cancerous tissue is also problematic due to the exposure of healthy cells to anti-cancer drugs. Thus, chemotherapy can be enhanced through both improved targeting and transport.
    Several strains of attenuated bacteria, such as Escherichia coli, Salmonella typhimurium have been identified to possess the natural ability to target and preferentially colonize tumor tissues. Our research focuses on the extravascular transport of tumor targeting bacteria and therapeutic nanoparticles within multi-cellular tumor spheroids. We aim to transform current practices and enable the development of active, controlled and resilient methods for targeted in-situ theranostics by harnessing the power of live attenuated tumor-targeting bacteria.

  • Bacterial adhesion and biofilm formation

    Bacterial adhesion and biofilm formation

    Microbial biofilms cause a significant portion of all human microbial infections. Nosocomial infections are the fourth leading cause of death and about 60–70% of nosocomial infections are associated with implanted medical devices. With advances in engineering biomaterials and regenerative tissue engineered therapies, we are likely to see an increase in the use of short and long-term biomedical implants. Current treatment paradigms for biofilm-associated infections typically consist of a combination of surgical replacement of the implant and long-term antibiotic therapy, which incur high health care costs and their application is likely to promote antibiotic resistance. Thus, there is a compelling need for new and efficient methods to protect implants from biofilm-associated infections. The objective of our research is to understand the mechanisms of bacterial and fungal adhesion in order to develop methods of delaying and/or preventing infectious biofilm formation on medically relevant surfaces. Our current activities are focused on investigating the effect of submicron topographical cues on pathogen adhesion and biofilm formation.

  • Electroactive biofilms for microbial fuel cells

    Electroactive biofilms for microbial fuel cells

    Microbial fuel cells (MFCs) utilize electrochemically active microorganisms to oxidize organic fuels for electricity generation. MFC could serve as compact, portable and sustainable sources of energy for a broad range of applications including power production for field operations, remote monitoring, and miniature robots.  Key challenges to the development of MFC technology include the need to improve efficiency and power density. The most effective MFC systems are likely to be those that utilize microorganisms that directly transfer electrons to the anode rather than those that rely on energetically costly electron shuttling mechanisms. Hence, it is of utmost importance to better understand microbe-electrode interactions and devise strategies to facilitate direct electron transport to the anode to enhance power generation in MFCs. Our research focuses on understanding the effect of topography of anode surfaces on the MFC performances. This effort will contribute to the critical understanding required to advance the science of microbial adhesion and electron transfer and develop enabling means to enhance the performance of MFCs.

  • Biological Microfluidics

    Biological Microfluidics

    Response of cells to chemical signals in chemotaxis, quorum sensing, and other processes are of significant importance in physiologically relevant processes such as wound healing and disease development such as infection or cancer metastasis. Our research in this area focuses on developing PDMS and hydrogel based microfluidic assay devices for systematic study of cellular behavior in presence of well-defined chemical and mechanical cues. We aim to elucidate the role and interplay of chemical, topographical and mechanical cues on cell behavior.

Laboratory address and students offices:

140 Kelly Hall
325 Stanger St.
Blacksburg, VA 24061-0477
Phone: 540-231-1442 (lab)

Department of Mechanical Engineering
College of Engineering, Virginia Tech
635 Prices Fork Road, Blacksburg, VA 24061