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Rae M. Anderson, PhD

Associate Professor, Interim Chair

Rae Anderson joined the Physics faculty at USD in 2009. Anderson’s research explores the molecular dynamics and interactions that give rise to the fascinating properties of biological soft materials. Specifically, Anderson uses both optical trapping and fluorescence microscopy to characterize intermolecular forces and molecular motion in complex systems of entangled DNA molecules and cytoskeleton proteins such as actin. Anderson’s research is funded by an Air Force Young Investigator Program Award and an NSF CAREER Award. Anderson was also recently named a Scialog Fellow by Research Corporation for Science Advancement and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


B.S. Physics, Phi Beta Kappa, Magna cum Laude, Georgetown University (2003); supported by Clare Boothe Luce Undergraduate Scholarship.

Ph.D. Physics, University of California, San Diego, (2007); supported by National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship

Postdoctoral Research Associate, The Scripps Research Institute; supported by National Institutes of Health Postdoctoral Training Fellowship

Scholarly and Creative Work

Anderson’s research lies at the intersection of biophysics and materials physics. Anderson uses single-molecule techniques including optical trapping and fluorescence microscopy, to elucidate molecular dynamics and intermolecular interactions among large biopolymers such as DNA and actin. Anderson aims to reveal the molecular dynamics that give rise to complex material behavior seen in a wide array of biological soft matter such as the cells in our bodies. The complexity and multi-functional properties of these materials (cells, muscles, bone, blood) make these materials model systems to mimic to design new biomaterials with novel, dynamic and highly useful properties.

Anderson loves her research because in her experiments, she can physically observe single DNA and actin molecules in motion and actually push and pull on them and measure the force that these molecules exert to resist this push/pull. Anderson’s research is also highly interdisciplinary and draws on techniques and knowledge in optics, statistical mechanics, fluids, electronics, molecular biology, biochemistry, chemical engineering, computer science, polymer physics, and condensed matter.

Anderson is a firm believer in the power of undergraduate research and is devoted to giving as many students as possible a meaningful and rewarding research experience in her lab. Students in Anderson’s lab receive extensive interdisciplinary research training, carry out independent research projects and have the opportunity to present their research at a national physics conferences.

Teaching Interests

Anderson is passionate about undergraduate physics education, with a special interest in interdisciplinary and research-focused courses. Dr. Anderson is the program director for the Physics Department’s Biophysics Major, a highly interdisciplinary major that prepares students to apply physics skills and knowledge to answer biological questions. Anderson designed and teaches the 2 capstone courses for this major: Biological Physics and the Experimental Biophysics advanced lab. Beyond biophysics, Anderson enjoys teaching both lower and upper division courses and particularly enjoys teaching Statistical Mechanics and Frontiers of Physics as well as the introductory physics series for life science majors.