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Steven M. Abel

Assistant Professor


Steve Abel received his undergraduate education at Rice University, where he earned a B.S. in Chemical Physics, a B.A. in Mathematics, and a B.A. in Physics. He received a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Stanford University and was a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His graduate research focused on developing theoretical methods to understand and describe the highly correlated motion of molecules in dense liquids. His postdoctoral work applied theory and computation to understand how T cells, the primary orchestrators of adaptive immunity, identify and respond to pathogens. This work was carried out in close collaboration with experimentalists, with a particular emphasis on understanding how the membrane environment influences signal transduction in cells. Dr. Abel’s group applies theoretical and computational methods to investigate fundamental problems in cell biology and immunology. A major focus is on the development of a multiscale, spatiotemporal understanding of cellular processes involving the interplay of signal transduction networks, membranes, and the cytoskeleton.


  • Computational cell biology and immunology
  • Theory and simulation of soft biological materials
  • Membrane and polymer biophysics
  • Antigen recognition and lymphocyte activation
  • Stochastic and spatial effects in biochemical reaction networks
  • Systems biology
  • Statistical mechanics


Ph.D., Stanford University

B.S., B.A., Rice University

Professional Service

  • Member: American Institute of Chemical Engineers, American Physical Society, Biophysical Society
  • Chair/co-chair of AIChE Annual Meeting sessions including: Complex and Networked Chemical and Biochemical Systems, Receptor-Mediated and Intracellular Phenomena, Applications in Immunology and Immunotherapy

Awards and Recognitions

  • 2015 Outstanding Teacher Award, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of Tennessee
  • Centennial Teaching Assistant Award, Stanford University


  • Pullen, R.H. and Abel, S.M. "Catch bonds at T cell interfaces: Impact of surface reorganization and membrane fluctuations." Biophys. J. 113: 120-131 (2017).
  • Prescott, A.M. and Abel, S.M. "Combining in silico evolution and nonlinear dimensionality reduction to redesign responses of signaling networks." Phys. Biol. 13: 066015 (2016).
  • Prescott, A.M., McCollough, F.W., Eldreth, B.L., Binder, B.M., Abel, S.M. "Analysis of network topologies underlying ethylene growth response kinetics." Front. Plant Sci. 7: 1308 (2016). 
  • Mirzaeifard, S. and Abel, S.M. "Confined semiflexible polymers suppress fluctuations of soft membrane tubes." Soft Matter 12: 1783-1790 (2016). 
  • Mlynarczyk, P.J., Pullen, R.H., Abel, S.M. "Confinement and diffusion modulate bistability and stochastic switching in a reaction network with positive feedback." J. Chem. Phys. 144: 015102 (2016). Selected as a 2016 Editors’ Choice article. 
  • Iversen, Tu, Lin, Christensen, Abel, Iwig, Wu, Gureasko, Rhodes, Petit, Hansen, Thill, Yu, Stamou, Chakraborty, Kuriyan, Groves. "Ras activation by SOS: Allosteric regulation by altered fluctuation dynamics." Science 345: 50-54 (2014).
  • Hoerter, Brzostek, Artyomov, Abel, Casas, Rybakin, Ampudia, Lotz, Connolly, Chakraborty, Gould, Gascoigne. "Coreceptor affinity for MHC defines peptide specificity requirements for TCR interaction with coagonist peptide–MHC." J. Exp. Med. 210: 1807-1821 (2013)
  • Abel, S.M., Roose, J.P., Groves, J.T., Weiss, A., Chakraborty, A.K. "The membrane environment can promote or suppress bistability in cell signaling networks." J. Phys. Chem. B 116: 3630-3640 (2012).
  • Abel, S.M., Tse, Y.-L.S., Andersen, H.C. "Kinetic theories of dynamics and persistent caging in a one-dimensional lattice gas." Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 106: 15142-15147 (2009).
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Contact Information

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