Azam Gholami

Associate Professor of Physics Affiliation: NYU Abu Dhabi
Education: BA Sharif University; MA Institute for Advanced Studies in Basic Sciences (IASBS); PhD Ludwig-Maximilian University

Research Areas: Active Matter; Collective behavior and non-linear dynamics in living systems; Cell motility; Actin dynamics; Micro-swimmers; Cilia-driven fluid flows and propulsion

Azam Gholami received her bachelor's degree in physics from Sharif University in Tehran and her master's degree in physics from the Institute for Advanced Studies in Basic Sciences (IASBS) in Zanjan, Iran. In 2007, she graduated with a PhD in biophysics from Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, Germany. As a postdoctoral fellow, she worked at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization (MPIDS) in Göttingen. From September 2011, she became a group leader at the MPIDS Göttingen and led the group "Pattern Formation in Biological Systems" for about ten years.

Azam Gholami is a physicist interested in collective behavior and non-linear dynamics in living systems. She and her team recently conducted experiments with the slime mold Dictyostelium discoideum, an experimental model of cell migration. Starving Dictyostelium cells secrete the chemoattractant cAMP, which stimulates the cells to migrate in head-to-tail streams, eventually leading to the formation of fruiting bodies required for cell survival. She and her coworkers generated substrates containing pillars of different sizes and patterns. They performed mathematical analysis of cAMP images and the migrating cells to determine how the Dictyostelium cells interpreted waves of chemoattractant disrupted by obstacles. This analysis, published in the journal of Science Signaling, could help understand how collections of cells interact with spatial barriers in their environment (

In addition, Azam Gholami is interested in the dynamics of cilia and flagella, slender hair-like appendages that protrude from the cell surface and act as the fundamental unit of motion, performing periodic whip-like motion to provide the driving force for fluid transport or locomotion of the cell. She and her collaborators recently demonstrated the biocompatibility and efficiency of an artificial light-driven energy module and a motility functional unit by integrating light-switchable photosynthetic vesicles with demembranated flagella. The flagellar propulsion is coupled to the beating frequency, and dynamic ATP synthesis in response to illumination allowed them to control the beating frequency of flagella in a light-dependent manner. In addition, they verified the functionality of light-powered synthetic vesicles in vitro motility assays by encapsulating microtubules assembled with force-generating kinesin-1 motors and the energy module to investigate the dynamics of a contractile filamentous network in cell-like compartments by optical stimulation. Integration of this photosynthetic system with various biological building blocks such as cytoskeletal filaments and molecular motors may contribute to the bottom-up synthesis of artificial cells that can undergo motor-driven morphological deformations and exhibit directional motion in a light-controllable fashion. This work was recently published in the journal ACS Synthetic Biology and highlighted on the journal's cover (

Courses Taught