California NanoSystems Institute
Text Size: A A A A

William M. Gelbart, Ph.D.

Lab Director, Gelbart Lab
Professor, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Physical Chemistry
Member, Biochemistry, Biophysics & Structural Biology GPB Home Area, California NanoSystems Institute
Researcher, Biophysics and Structural Biology, Physical, Theoretical Chemistry

Ph.D., University of Chicago, 1970

Academic Experience:
2009 - American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Honors and Awards:
2006 Cornell University, Laughlin Lecturer
2003 UCLA, H. N. McCoy Award
2002 Case Western Reserve University, Bikerman Lecturer
2001 American Chemical Society "Liquids" (Hildebrand) Prize
1999 Institut Curie, Rothschild Lecturer
1998 - 1999 J. S. Guggenheim Fellowship
1996 UCLA, Luckman Distinguished Teaching Award
1991 British Royal Society, Lennard-Jones Medal
1988 University of Leeds, Brotherton Lecturer
1988 UCLA, H. N. McCoy Award
1987 American Physical Society, Fellow
1986 UCLA, Hanson-Dow Distinguished Teaching Award
1981 UCLA, Glenn T. Seaborg Award
1976 Camille and Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award
1974 Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship
1971 Miller Institute Fellowship at Berkeley
1971 Elected to Michigan Society of Fellows
1970 N.S.F. - N.A.T.O. Postdoctoral Fellowship
1967 N.S.F. Traineeship
1963 Harvard College Scholarship

Contact Information:
Work Email Address:
Work Email Address:
Office Address: Student Office
Young Hall 3107
Work Address: Young Hall 3047
Home Page:
Office Phone Number: 1 (310) 825-2005 Office
1 (310) 825-6790 Student Office
Fax Number: 1 (310) 267-0319 Fax
Research Interests:

I am generally interested in the statistical mechanics of complex fluids. "Complex" here refers to the fact that the systems in question possess at least one degree of freedom beyond the usual translational one in "simple" fluids. In the case of neat liquid crystals, for example, it is the possibility of long-range orientational order which enters; in the instance of flexible polymers, it is the conformational degrees of freedom. Even more intriguing are the self-assembling systems such as micellized surfactant solutions, where the interacting colloidal particles are aggregates of large numbers of molecules. Because of the exchange of molecules between micelles, the sizes and shapes of these aggregates are not fixed but rather vary with concentration and temperature. Accordingly, a new statistical mechanical approach is necessary to describe the resulting complexity of structures and phase coexistences in these solutions. Complex fluids also involve the appearance of a new ("mesoscopic") length scale, intermediate between molecular and macroscopic. In surfactant solutions and microemulsions it is "simply" the size of the self-assembled structures (e.g., micelles and oil-in-water domains respectively), while more generally it is associated with the wavelength of various spatially modulated phases which emerge spontaneously at low enough temperatures. Finally, we continue to work on statistical mechanical approaches to the response to applied stress and strain of almost-ideal solids (i.e., ones free of all but small (atomic) -scale defects), concentrating in particular on crystal-crystal phase transitions, amorphization, and -- ultimately -- failure via melting or fracture.

Technical Research Interest:

Statistical mechanics of complex fluids

For almost two decades our efforts have been broadly focused on "complex fluids", from both analytical and computational points of view. Examples of such systems include: micellized surfactant solutions and microemulsions; lipid bilayers; colloidal suspensions; polymer solutions, including polyelectrolytes; interfacial and surface thin films; and liquid crystals. In all cases the systems involve a mesoscopic length scale -- nanometers, typically -- intermediate between the microscopic and macroscopic. Correspondingly, it is almost always inappropriate to describe them via use of a molecular, atomistic, hamiltonian. Instead, the various energies and entropy terms are best treated phenomenologically, in order to address the basic questions involving structural evolution and phase transitions on mesoscopic scales. Our work up through 1996, along with a critical perspective of the field, is reviewed in the Centennial issue (volume 100) of the Journal of Physical Chemistry: W. M. Gelbart and A. Ben-Shaul, "The 'New' Science of Complex Fluids", pp. 13169-89. More recent investigations, featuring spontaneous pattern formation in nanoparticle dispersions, are described in W. M. Gelbart, R. P. Sear, J. R. Heath and S. Chaney, "Array Formation in Nano-colloids: Theory and Experiment in 2D", Faraday Discussions 112, 299-307 (1999).

Life cycles of viruses: DNA condensation, complexation, and encapsidation

As a natural outgrowth of our longstanding interest in the statistical mechanics of complex fluids, we have begun to concentrate recently on a wide range of problems involving biological consequences of the mesoscopic properties of DNA. Even as it is the basic repository of genetic information, DNA is also "just" a linear polyelectrolyte and 1D elastic object whose consequent physical properties are of fundamental importance to all living systems. DNA in most bacterial viruses, for example, is strongly condensed, i.e., its density is comparable to that of crystalline DNA; furthermore, it is confined in protein capsids whose dimensions are orders of magnitude smaller than its length (see Fig. 1). We are interested in how DNA is packaged in these viral capsids (Fig. 2) and how its state of stress determines the way it is injected into a bacterial cell to begin the infection process. In the case of most animal viruses, like polio, flu and HIV, on the other hand, infection is initiated by passage of the entire viral particle -- protein capsid and all -- through the plasma membrane into the cell cytoplasm. We study this process -- endocytosis -- from a physical point of view, i.e., a generic colloidal particle passing through a molecular bilayer; phenomenological connections to specific biological systems are developed by treating, for example, the effect of receptor proteins on membrane elasticity and particle/membrane adhesion energy, etc. We also investigate the structure and dynamics of nucleosomes, the basic building blocks of chromosomes in which DNA is complexed with globular aggregates of cationic proteins (the histones). In another set of problems we are attempting to understand how -- and why -- icosahedral symmetry plays such a fundamental role in the self-assembly of viral protein capsids (Fig. 3).

Additional Information:

B.S., Harvard University (1967); Ph.D., University of Chicago (1970); NSF Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Paris-Orsay (1971); Miller Institute Fellow, University of California, Berkeley (1971-1972); Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow (1974); Camille and Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award (1976); Glenn T. Seaborg Award (1981); Hanson-Dow Distinguished Teaching Award (1986); American Physical Society Fellow (1987); Herbert Newby McCoy Award (1988); Brotherton Professor, University of Leeds (1988); Royal Society of Chemistry/Lennard-Jones Medal (1991); University Distinguished Teaching Award (1996); J. S. Guggenheim Fellowship (1998-1999); Rothschild Professor, Institut Curie, Paris (1999); American Chemical Society "Liquids" (Hildebrand) Prize (2001).

Selected Publications:

Prinsen P, van der Schoot P, Gelbart WM, Knobler CM, Multishell structures of virus coat proteins, J Phys Chem B, 2010, 114 (16), 5522-33.
Yoffe AM, Prinsen P, Gelbart WM, Ben-Shaul A, The ends of a large RNA molecule are necessarily close, Nucleic Acids Res, 2010, 39 (1), 292-9.
Myrick KV, Huet F, Mohr SE, Alvarez-García I, Lu JT, Smith MA, Crosby MA, Gelbart WM, Large-scale functional annotation and expanded implementations of the P{wHy} hybrid transposon in the Drosophila melanogaster genome, Genetics, 2009, 182 (3), 653-60.
Lavelle L, Gingery M, Phillips M, Gelbart WM, Knobler CM, Cadena-Nava RD, Vega-Acosta JR, Pinedo-Torres LA, Ruiz-Garcia J, Phase diagram of self-assembled viral capsid protein polymorphs, J Phys Chem B, 2009, 113 (12), 3813-9.
Knobler, C. M. Gelbart, W. M., Physical chemistry of DNA viruses, Annu Rev Phys Chem, 2009, 60, 367-83.
Gelbart WM, Knobler CM, Presssurized Viruses, Science, 2009, 323 (5922), 1682-1683.
Prinsen P, Fang LT, Yoffe AM, Knobler CM, Gelbart WM, The Force Acting on a Polymer Partially confined in a Tube, J Phys Chem B, 2009, 113 (12), 3873-3879.
Chang, C. B. Knobler, C. M. Gelbart, W. M. Mason, T. G., Curvature dependence of viral protein structures on encapsidated nanoemulsion droplets, ACS Nano, 2008, 2 (2), 281-6.
Evilevitch, A., Fang, L.-T., Yoffe, A. M., Castelnuovo, M., Rau, D. C., Parsegian, Gelbart W. M. and Knobler,. C. M., Effects of Salt Concentrations and Bending Energy on the Extent of Ejection of Phage Genomes, Biophys. J, 2008, 94 (3), 1110-1120.
Ng, B.C.; Yu, M.; Gopal, A.; Rome, L.H.; Monbouquette, H.G.; and Tolbert, S.H., Encapsulation of Semiconducting Polymers in Vault Protein Cages, Nano Letters, 2008, 8 (10), 3503–3509.
Hu, Y. Zandi, R. Anavitarte, A. Knobler, C. M. Gelbart, W. M., Packaging of a polymer by a viral capsid: the interplay between polymer length and capsid size, Biophys J, 2008, 94 (4), 1428-36.
Yoffe, A. M. Prinsen, P. Gopal, A. Knobler, C. M. Gelbart, W. M. Ben-Shaul, A., Predicting the sizes of large RNA molecules, Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 2008, 105 (42), 16153-8.
Knobler, C.M. and W.M. Gelbart, The Physics of Phages, Physics Today, 2008, 61 (1), 42-47.
Johnson RR, Watt R, Kovac B, Zyuzin A, Van Lier E, Erdman KL, Gyles W, Sabaiduc V, McQuarrie SA, Wilson J, Backhouse C, Gelbart W, Kuo T, Advances in intense beams, beam delivery, targetry, and radiochemistry at advanced cyclotron systems, NUCLEAR INSTRUMENTS & METHODS IN PHYSICS RESEARCH SECTION B-BEAM INTERACTIONS WITH MATERIALS AND ATOMS , 2007, 261 (1-2), 803-808.
Lobo NF, Campbell KS, Thaner D, deBruyn B, Koo H, Gelbart WM, Loftus BJ, Severson DW, Collins FH , Analysis of 14 BAC sequences from the Aedes aegypti genome: a benchmark for genome annotation and assembly, Genome Biology, 2007, 8 (5), r88.
Bhutkar A, Russo SM, Smith TF, Gelbart WM , Genome-scale analysis of positionally relocated genes, Genome Research, 2007, 17 (12), 1880-1887.
Lin MF, Carlson JW, Crosby MA, Matthews BB, Yu C, Park S, Wan KH, Schroeder AJ, Gramates LS, Pierre SES, Roark M, Wiley KL, Kulathinal RJ, Zhang PL, Myrick KV, Antone JV, Celniker SE, Gelbart WM, Kellis M, Revisiting the protein-coding gene catalog of Drosophila melanogaster using 12 fly genomes, Genome Research, 2007, 17 (12), 1823-1836.
Nguyen, T. T. Bruinsma, R. F. Gelbart, W. M. , Continuum theory of retroviral capsids, Phys Rev Lett, 2006, 96 (7), 078102.
Inamdar MM, Gelbart WM, Phillips R , Dynamics of DNA ejection from bacteriophage, Biophysical Journal, 2006, 91 (2), 411-420.
Grayson, P. Evilevitch, A. Inamdar, M. M. Purohit, P. K. Gelbart, W. M. Knobler, C. M. Phillips, R. , The effect of genome length on ejection forces in bacteriophage lambda, Virology, 2006, 348 (2), 430-436.
Nguyen, T. T. Bruinsma, R. F. and Gelbart, W. M. , Elasticity theory and shape transitions of viral shells, Phys Rev E Stat Nonlin Soft Matter Phys, 2005, 72 (5 Pt 1), 051923.
Evilevitch, A. Gober, J. W. Phillips, M. Knobler, C. M. and Gelbart, W. M. , Measurements of DNA lengths remaining in a viral capsid after osmotically suppressed partial ejection, Biophys J, 2005, 88 (1), 751-756.
Bagatella-Flores, N., H. Schiessel and W. M. Gelbart, Statics and Dynamics of Polymer-Wrapped Colloids, J. Phys. Chem B, 2005, 109 (45), 21305-21312.
Borukhov, I. Bruinsma, R. F. Gelbart, W. M. Liu, A. J. , Structural polymorphism of the cytoskeleton: a model of linker-assisted filament aggregation, Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 2005, 102 (10), 3673-3678.
Tzlil, S. Deserno, M. Gelbart, W. M. and Ben-Shaul, A. , A statistical-thermodynamic model of viral budding, Biophys J, 2004, 86 (4), 2037-2048.
Lee, K. C. Borukhov, I. Gelbart, W. M. Liu, A. J. and Stevens, M. J. , Effect of mono- and multivalent salts on angle-dependent attractions between charged rods, Phys Rev Lett, 2004, 93 (12), 128101.
Evilevitch, A. Martin Castelnovo, C.M. Knobler and W.M. Gelbart, Measuring the Force Ejecting DNA from Phage, J. Phys. Chem B, 2004, 108 (21), 6838–6843.
Zandi, R. Reguera, D. Bruinsma, R. F. Gelbart, W. M. and Rudnick, J. , Origin of icosahedral symmetry in viruses, Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 2004, 101 (44), 15556-15560.
Castelnovo, M. and W.M. Gelbart, Semiflexible Chain Condensation by Neutral Depleting Agents: Role of Correlations between Depletants, Macromolecules, 2004, 37 (9), 3510–3517.
Tzlil, S. Kindt, J. T. Gelbart, W. M. Ben-Shaul, A. , Forces and pressures in DNA packaging and release from viral capsids, Biophys J, 2003, 84 (3), 1616-1627.
Castelnovo, M. Bowles, R. K. Reiss, H. Gelbart, W. M. , Osmotic force resisting chain insertion in a colloidal suspension, Eur Phys J E Soft Matter, 2003, 10 (2), 191-197.
Evilevitch, A. Lavelle, L. Knobler, C. M. Raspaud, E. Gelbart, W. M. , Osmotic pressure inhibition of DNA ejection from phage, Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 2003, 100 (16), 9292-9295.
Cordova, A. Deserno, M. Gelbart, W. M. and Ben-Shaul, A. , Osmotic shock and the strength of viral capsids, Biophys J, 2003, 85 (1), 70-74.
Bruinsma, R. F. Gelbart, W. M. Reguera, D. Rudnick, and J. Zandi, R. , Viral self-assembly as a thermodynamic process, Phys Rev Lett, 2003, 90 (24), 248101.
Zandi, R. Reguera, D. Rudnick, J. and Gelbart, W. M. , What drives the translocation of stiff chains?, Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 2003, 100 (15), 8649-8653.
Huet, F. Lu, J. T. Myrick, K. V. Baugh, L. R. Crosby, M. A. and Gelbart, W. M. , A deletion-generator compound element allows deletion saturation analysis for genomewide phenotypic annotation, Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 2002, 99 (15), 9948-9953.
Deserno, M. and W.M. Gelbart, Adhesion and Wrapping in Colloid-Vesicle Complexes, J. Phys. Chem B, 2002, 106 (21), 5543–5552.
Borukhov, I., K.C. Lee, R.F. Bruinsma, W.M. Gelbart, A.J. Liu and M.J. Stevens, Association of Two Semi-flexible Polyelectrolytes by Interchain Linkers: Theory and Simulations, J.Chem Phys, 2002, 117 (1), 462.
Myrick, K. V., and W.M. Gelbart, Universal Fast Walking for direct and versatile determination of flanking sequence, Gene, 2002, 284 (1-2), 125-131.
Knobler Charles M, Gelbart William M, Physical chemistry of DNA viruses, Annual review of physical chemistry, 2009, 60 (12), 367-83.
Azizgolshani Odisse, Garmann Rees F, Cadena-Nava Ruben, Knobler Charles M, Gelbart William M, Reconstituted plant viral capsids can release genes to mammalian cells, Virology, 2013, 441 (1), 12-7.
Yoffe Aron M, Prinsen Peter, Gopal Ajaykumar, Knobler Charles M, Gelbart William M, Ben-Shaul Avinoam, Predicting the sizes of large RNA molecules, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 2008, 105 (42), 16153-8.
Comas-Garcia Mauricio, Cadena-Nava Ruben D, Rao A L N, Knobler Charles M, Gelbart William M, In vitro quantification of the relative packaging efficiencies of single-stranded RNA molecules by viral capsid protein, Journal of virology, 2012, 86 (22), 12271-82.
Cadena-Nava Ruben D, Comas-Garcia Mauricio, Garmann Rees F, Rao A L N, Knobler Charles M, Gelbart William M, Self-assembly of viral capsid protein and RNA molecules of different sizes: requirement for a specific high protein/RNA mass ratio, Journal of virology, 2012, 86 (6), 3318-26.
Hu Yufang, Zandi Roya, Anavitarte Adriana, Knobler Charles M, Gelbart William M, Packaging of a polymer by a viral capsid: the interplay between polymer length and capsid size, Biophysical journal, 2008, 94 (4), 1428-36.
Gopal Ajaykumar, Zhou Z Hong, Knobler Charles M, Gelbart William M, Visualizing large RNA molecules in solution, RNA (New York, N.Y.), 2012, 18 (2), 284-99.
Chang Connie B, Knobler Charles M, Gelbart William M, Mason Thomas G, Curvature dependence of viral protein structures on encapsidated nanoemulsion droplets, ACS nano, 2008, 2 (2), 281-6.
Fang Ruihua, Schindelman Gary, Van Auken Kimberly, Fernandes Jolene, Chen Wen, Wang Xiaodong, Davis Paul, Tuli Mary Ann, Marygold Steven J, Millburn Gillian, Matthews Beverley, Zhang Haiyan, Brown Nick, Gelbart William M, Sternberg Paul W, Automatic categorization of diverse experimental information in the bioscience literature, BMC bioinformatics, 2012, 13 (2), 16.
Cadena-Nava Ruben D, Hu Yufang, Garmann Rees F, Ng Benny, Zelikin Alexander N, Knobler Charles M, Gelbart William M, Exploiting fluorescent polymers to probe the self-assembly of virus-like particles, The journal of physical chemistry. B, 2011, 115 (10), 2386-91.
Yoffe Aron M, Prinsen Peter, Gelbart William M, Ben-Shaul Avinoam, The ends of a large RNA molecule are necessarily close, Nucleic acids research, 2011, 39 (1), 292-9.
Prinsen Peter, van der Schoot Paul, Gelbart William M, Knobler Charles M, Multishell structures of virus coat proteins, The journal of physical chemistry. B, 2010, 114 (16), 5522-33.
Knobler Charles M, Birney Ewan, Hudson Thomas J, Green Eric D, Gunter Chris, Eddy Sean, Rogers Jane, Harris Jennifer R, Ehrlich S Dusko, Apweiler Rolf, Austin Christopher P, Berglund Lisa, Bobrow Martin, Bountra Chas, Brookes Anthony J, Cambon-Thomsen Anne, Carter Nigel P, Chisholm Rex L, Contreras Jorge L, Cooke Robert M, Crosby William L, Dewar Ken, Durbin Richard, Dyke Stephanie O M, Ecker Joseph R, El Emam Khaled, Feuk Lars, Gabriel Stacey B, Gallacher John, Gelbart William M, Granell Antoni, Guarner Francisco, Hubbard Tim, Jackson Scott A, Jennings Jennifer L, Joly Yann, Jones Steven M, Kaye Jane, Kennedy Karen L, Knoppers Bartha Maria, Kyrpides Nikos C, Lowrance William W, Luo Jingchu, MacKay John J, Martín-Rivera Luis, McCombie W Richard, McPherson John D, Miller Linda, Miller Webb, Moerman Don, Mooser Vincent, Morton Cynthia C, Ostell James M, Ouellette B F Francis, Parkhill Julian, Raina Parminder S, Rawlings Christopher, Scherer Steven E, Scherer Stephen W, Schofield Paul N, Sensen Christoph W, Stodden Victoria C, Sussman Michael R, Tanaka Toshihiro, Thornton Janet, Tsunoda Tatsuhiko, Valle David, Vuorio Eero I, Walker Neil M, Wallace Susan, Weinstock George, Whitman William B, Worley Kim C, Wu Cathy, Wu Jiayan, Yu Jun, Prepublication data sharing, Nature, 2009, 461 (7261), 168-70.
Gelbart William M, Knobler Charles M, Virology. Pressurized viruses, Science (New York, N.Y.), 2009, 323 (5922), 1682-3.
Prinsen Peter, Fang Li Tai, Yoffe Aron M, Knobler Charles M, Gelbart William M, The force acting on a polymer partially confined in a tube, The journal of physical chemistry. B, 2009, 113 (12), 3873-9.