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Clifford Brangwynne wants to understand the biophysics of phase transitions in a cell and how different states of matter affect gene expression. Brangwynne and his team have combined concepts and tools from soft matter physics and molecular cell biology to reveal how shifts in material states drive the condensation of various liquid-like assemblies throughout the cell. They recently developed a suite of biophysical tools, including several new optogenetic platforms, to engineer phase transitions at defined genomic loci and examine their causal relationships with genome organization and transcriptional activity. These insights could help researchers better understand diseases affected by changes in protein states, like Alzheimer’s.