Single cells are the building blocks for all biological systems; yet they are inherently complex with intricate networks of dynamic biomolecular assemblies made up of proteins, coenzymes, ligands, DNA, RNA and lipids. In addition, these molecular assemblies are dynamically changing their sizes, conformations and intermolecular interactions in response to specific chemical, environmental or biological cues. In Heikal laboratory, we are using fluorescence microscopy (confocal, two-photon, TIRF, and wide-field) and spectroscopy (time-resolved fluorescence, time-resolved anisotropy, FLIM, and FCS) to investigate molecular and cellular biophysics. These noninvasive and quantitative approaches complement traditional biochemical techniques on purified biomolecules from cell lysates. 

Ghukasyan and Heikal_Book (2014)

Our interdisciplinary research interests are focused on understanding the molecular underpinning of cellular processes such as energy metabolism in living cells, mitochondrial dysfunction, biomimetic membranes, and immunoglobulin E receptor signaling. We are also interested in studying protein & molecular dynamics, protein-protein interactions, macromolecular crowding, and spectroscopy. In addition, we are developing fluorescence-based micro-spectroscopic tools, image processing algorithm and modeling. For more information, please see our "Publications" page.

Students in Heikal laboratory (both undergraduates and graduates) are trained on a number of analytical, biophysical, and biochemical methods that include cell culture, model membrane assemblies, molecular dynamics, optical microscopy and ultrafast laser spectroscopy. Different aspects of scientific research (e.g., experimental design, data and image analysis, critical thinking, scientific writing, communication and teamwork skills) are also emphasized. The students in Heikal laboratory also gain an appreciation of interdisciplinary research at the interface of traditional disciplines of chemistry, biochemistry, biology, physics, and mathematics.


On March 12, 2022, Ahmed Heikal has accepted to serve as an Associate Editor on the Board of Biophysics section (Ralf Metzler, Chief Editor) of Frontiers in Physics, Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences, and Frontiers in Physiology.

Congratulations to Sarah Bergman for her Professor Bilin Tsai SURP-2022 Award in order to continue her undergraduate research during the Summer-2022. Congratulations, Sarah.

Congratulations to Cody Staydohar for his UROP Award in order to continue his undergraduate research during the spring-2022. Well deserved, Cody.

Ahmed Heikal will be an invited speaker at the SPIE-2022 conference (San Diego, CA) during August 23-25, 2022.

Sarah Mersch, Rowan Simonet, and Malachy Brink have presented their research at the 66th Annual Biophysical Society conference in San Francisco, CA (February 19-23, 2022).

Taryn Kay (graduate student in the UMD Department of Physics and Astronomy), Cody Aplin (graduate student in the UMD Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry), and Julie Beenken (undergraduate student in UMD Chemistry and Biochemistry) will be presenting their research projects in the upcoming Annual Biophysical Society Meeting (February 15-19, 2020, San Diego, CA). Taryn, Cody, and Julie are also the recipients for the Biophysical Society Travel Award to cover (in part) theirtravel expenses to the meeting. Congratulations!!!

Ahmed Heikal, Dr. Jon Holy (Duluth Medical School), Dr. Erin Sheets (UMD Chemistry and Biochemistry) are the recipients of the Grant-in-Aid of Research, Artistry, and Scholarship award from the Office of the Vice President for Research, the University of Minnesota, for the period of January 2020-January 2021. We are grateful for the university support of our collaborative, interdisciplinary research project.

T.M. Kay, C.P. Aplin, R. Simonet, J. Beenken, R.C. Miller, C. Libal, A.J. Boersma, E.D. Sheets and A.A. Heikal. 2021. Molecular Brightness Approach for FRET Analysis of Donor-Linker- Acceptor Constructs at the Single Molecule Level: A Concept. Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences. 8:730394. DOI: 10.3389/fmolb.2021.730394

A.T.Q. Cong, R.M.L. Pimenta, J. Holy and A.A. Heikal. 2021. Associated anisotropy of intrinsic NAD(P)H for monitoring changes in the metabolic activities of breast cancer cells (4T1) in three-dimensional collagen matrix. Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys., 2021, 23, 12692. DOI:

C.P. Aplin, R.C. Miller, T.M. Kay, A.A. Heikal, A.J. Boersma, and E.D. Sheets. 2021. Fluorescence depolarization dynamics of ionic strength sensors using time-resolved anisotropy. Biophysical J., 120, 1417–1430. 

C.R. Miller, C.P. Aplin, T.M. Kay, R. Leighton, C, Libal, R. Simonet, A. Cembran, A. A. Heikal, A.J. Boersma, and Erin D. Sheets. 2020. FRET Analysis of Ionic Strength Sensors in the Hofmeister Series of Salt Solutions using Fluorescence Lifetime Measurements. J. Phys. Chem. (B), 124, 3447 – 3458. DOI:10.1021/acs.jpcb.9b10498.

C.P. Aplin, T.M. Kay, R.C. Miller, A.J. Boersma, E.D. Sheets, A.A. Heikal. Integrated fluorescence approach for FRET analysis of environmental sensors, Proc. SPIE 11122, Ultrafast Nonlinear Imaging and Spectroscopy VII, 111220E (9 September 2019). DOI: 10.1117/12.2531656.

Taryn Kay, a graduate student in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, UMD, was awarded the Mylan Radulovich Graduate Fellowship for 2019-20 acamademic year. Taryn is a memeber of the Heikal Research Group and is working on single-molecules studies of genetically encoded FRET constructs for environmental ionic-strength sensing. Congratulations to Taryn.

Ahmed Heikal was an invited speaker at the 13th Annual FLIM Workshop in the Biomedical Sciences (Bethesda, MD, October 31, 2019).

Congratulations to Anh Cong for successfully defending her MS thesis on August 06, 2019. Anh has secured a job in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Mayo Clinc. Congratulations, Anh.

Julie Beenken and Emmanuel Tetteh-Jada have presented their summer undergraduate research at the SURP-2019Symposium. Congratulations to both Julie and Emmanuel.

Congratulations to Robert Miller for successfully defending his MS thesis on July 19, 2019. Robert is admitted to Graduate PhD Chemistry Program at Cornell university, Ithaca, NY.

Ahmed Heikal was an invited speaker at the SPIE-2019 conference (San Diego, CA) during August 11-15, 2019.

Jacob Schwarz, Hannah Leopold, Ryan Leighton, Robert C. Miller, Cody P. Aplin, Arnold J. Boersma, Ahmed A. Heikal, and Erin D. Sheets. “Macromolecula Crowding Effects on Energy Transfer Efficiency and Donor-Acceptor Distance of Hetero-FRET Sensors using Time-Resolved Fluorescence.” Methods and Applications in Fluorescence, 7(2): 025002(2019). DOI: 10.1088/2050-6120/ab0242.

Hannah Leopold, Ryan Leighton, Jacob Schwarz, Arnold J. Boersma, Erin D. Sheets, and Ahmed A Heikal. "Crowding Effects on Energy Transfer Efficiencies of hetero-FRET Probes as Measured using Time-Resolved Fluorescence Anisotropy". J. Phys. Chem. (B)2019, 123, 379 - 393. DOI: 10.1021/acs.jpcb.8b09829.

Anh Cong, Rafaela M. L. Pimenta, Hong Bok Lee, Venkatram Mereddy, Jon Holy, Ahmed A. Heikal. "Two-Photon Fluorescence Lifetime Imaging of Intrinsic NAD(P)H in Three-Dimensional Tumor Models". Cytometry (Part A), 95A, 80-92, 2019DOI: 10.1002-cyto.a.23632.

Hong Bok Lee, Anh Cong, Hannah Leopold, Megan Currie, Arnold J. Boersma, Erin D. Sheets,  and Ahmed A. Heikal. "Rotational and Translational Diffusion of Size-Dependent Fluorescent Probes in Homogeneous and Heterogeneous Environments". Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys.2018, 20, 24045 – 24057. DOI: 10.1039/c8cp03873b.

Congratulation to Rowna Simonet for her Outstanding Poster Presentation at the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) Symposium (August 03, 2018).

Ahmed Heikal was an invited speaker at the upcoming SPIE 2018 (Session: Optical Engineering and Applications), which will be held in San Diego, CA (August 19-23, 2018).

Congratulations to Hong Bok Lee for successfully defending his M.S. Thesis (May 27, 2018). Hong Bok will attend the Graduate Ph.D. Chemistry Program at the University of Iowa.

Congratulation to Rowna Simonet for her POLYED Award for Achievement in Organic Chemistry (Spring-2018).

Congratulations to Ryan Leighton, the reciepient of Honors from both Chemistry & Biochemistry and Physics, the Physics and Astronomy Research Award, the Lake Superior Section of the ACS Award, and FB Moore Award (Spring-2018).

Ahmed Heikal was nominated by students for the "Outstanding Academic Advisor Award" for the academic year of 2017-18.

Congratulations to Shane Wilson for successfully defending his M.S. thesis (August 23, 2017). 

Congratulations to Hannah Leopold and Jacob Schwarz for successfully defending their M.S. thesis (August 10, 2017).

Congratulations to Megan Currie for successfully defending her M.S. thesis (May 9, 2017). 

On Thursday, October 5th (2017), Ahmed A. Heikal was an invited speaker at the Biophysical Seminar Series at the School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

Jacob Schwarz, Ryan Leighton, Hannah J. Leopold, Megan Currie, Arnold J. Boersma, Erin D. Sheets, and Ahmed A. Heikal. 2017.“Kinetics Model for the Wavelength-Dependence of Excited-State Dynamics of Hetero-FRET Sensors.”  Proc. SPIE 10380, Ultrafast Nonlinear Imaging and Spectroscopy V, 103800S; doi: 10.1117/12.2274793.

Hannah Leopold, Megan Currie, Jacob Schwarz, Erin D. Sheets, and Ahmed A. Heikal. "Molecular spectroscopy and dynamics of novel FRET Sensors in crowded environments". SPIE Optical Engineering and ApplicationsUltrafast Nonlinear Imaging and Spectroscopy IV, San Diego, CA, August 6 – 10, 2017, “Invited Talk”.

Megan Currie, Hannah Leopold, Jacob Schwarz, Arnold J. Boersma, Erin D. Sheets, and Ahmed A. Heikal. 2017. "Fluorescence Dynamics of a FRET Probe Designed for Crowding Studies". The Journal of Physical Chemistry (B), 121 (23), 5688-5698. DOI: 10.1021/acs.jpcb.7b01306.