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Associate Professor in the Department of Physics+44 (0) 191 33 43598
Associate Fellow in the Institute of Advanced Study
Associate Professor in the Biophysical Sciences Institute 
Biophysical Sciences Institute Executive Board in the Biophysical Sciences Institute
Associate Professor in the Durham CELLS (Centre for Ethics and Law in the Life Sciences)
Co-Director (Science) in the Institute of Advanced Study+44 (0) 191 33 43598


Margarita Staykova is Associate Professor at the Department of Physics, Durham University, where she leads a research group in Biophysics and Soft Condensed Matter. She is Director of Science at the Institute of Advanced Study, and Executive Board Member at the Biophysics Science Institute. Prior to joining Durham, Margarita has worked in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Princeton University (2009-2013) and at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, Germany (2007-2009). She has a PhD in Biophysics from Rostock University, Germany (2006) and MSc in Molecular Biology from Sofia University, Bulgaria.


Margarita leads a biophyiscs group that combines experiments on membrane model systems and on living cells, and uses those to design bio-hybrid systems with life like properties. We are interested in the ethical, technological and social implications of our research and explore them through close collaborations with science and technology scholars, anthropologists and artists. 

Margarita welcomes inquiries from postgraduates in any aspect of membrane/cell biophysics and bio-engineering, and is always open to new collaborations with scientists and stakeholders across various fields.



The cell interface is a multi-layered ensemble, with the plasma membrane in the middle, a contractile actin cortex on the inner side, and an extracellular matrix, cell wall or neighbour cell membrane on the outer side. To understand how the coupling between these structurally and mechanically different layers shape the surface functionality of cells, we develop synthetic cells and model interfaces using tools from soft matter and microfluidics, and subject them to mechanical and electrical manipulation. 

For example, by coupling lipid membranes to elastic substrates we were able to demonstrate how cells regulate passively their surface area under mechanical perturbation, how mechanical stretch and compression regulate membrane protein binding (Roux et al.) and cholesterol content (Rahimi et al; Miller et al.), and how membranes open and close pores in controllable manner (Goodband et al.). In a more recent study (Dinet et al), we provided the experimental and physical understanding of how hydraulic fracturing can pattern cell-cell adhesions and facilitate biological processes such as lumen formation.

With the help of such experiments we aim to understand the mechano-sensitive organisation of biological interfaces, and reconstitute it in biomimetic and bio-hybrid systems of academic and industrial interest. We work with industrial partners such as GSK, Procter&Gamble, and Mondelēz. 

Biohybrid futures

In our Material Imagination project (, we study the interactions of microbes with lipid membranes in order to understand the principles and mechanisms of cellular pathogenesis and endosymbiosis, and to design biohybrid systems with the life-like abilities to move, adapt and propagate. In a close collaboration with the social scientist Tiago Moreira, the artist Alexandra Carr and fellows of the Institute of Advances Study, we explore the social and future dimensions of creating and living with biohybrid technologies, that extend beyond the immediate scope of scientific explorations (Moreira et al.). For more information, please take a look at our video, commissioned by the Royal Society (



Margarita has sponsored a number of Visiting IAS Fellows to Durham University:

2023 Professor Elisabeth A. Povinelli, Department of Anthropology, Columbia University, USA 

2023 Professor David Kneas, Department of Anthropology, University of South Carolina, USA

2020 Professor Wilson Poon, Department of Physics, University of Edinburgh, UK

2020 Professor Torben E Jensen, Techno-Anthropology Research group, Aalborg University, Denmark.

2020 Alexandra Carr, artist

2020 Professor Laura Forlano, College of Arts, Media, and Design, Northeastern University, USA

Research interests

  • Biophysics
  • Biological membranes
  • Lipid interfaces
  • Synthetic cells
  • Living materials
  • Responsible research and Innovation
  • Science and Technology Studies

Esteem Indicators

  • 2023: Director for Science - Institute of Advanced Study, Durham University :


Chapter in book

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Supervision students