Dr W M (Steve) Lee

Harvard/MGH-Postdoc (Biomed) | St Andrews- PhD(Physics) | NTU- B.Eng(Hons)
Group Leader
ANU College of Health and Medicine
T: +6126125 6166

Areas of expertise

  • Biological Physics 029901
  • Optical Physics 0205
  • Fluidisation And Fluid Mechanics 091504
  • Cell Physiology 320801
  • Cellular Interactions (Incl. Adhesion, Matrix, Cell Wall) 310105
  • Bioinformatic Methods Development 310201
  • Artificial Intelligence And Image Processing 0801
  • Biomedical Instrumentation 090303
  • Medical Biotechnology Diagnostics (Incl. Biosensors) 100402
  • Cardiovascular Medicine And Haematology 1102

Research interests

ANU Optical Biofluidic Group (Lee group@JCSMR

Optical Biofluidics Imaging Group is dedicated to advancing the understanding of how cell communities interact and respond to extracellular fluid forces, surface adhesion factors and 3D microstructure. 

We have developed a series of novel optical technologies (Spatial Adaptive Imaging and Lithography - SAIL) that permit us to monitor and engineer cellular activities such as adhesion, migration, and aggregation so as to create Micro-Avatar of Tissue (MAT). Our work helps us to gain solutions to produce tissue or organ substitute at scale.  



            I am an optical biophysicist who draws inspiration from the physical world of light and fluids to develop optical tools for cell and tissue biology. In my PhD (2006-2010), I engineered fluid singularities in laser fields that enhances optical tweezers (Nature Protocol- 2007) that can be used to study opto-acoustic gene transfection in mammalian cells (App Phys Lett- 2011). In parallel, I invented an ultrasensitive optical fiber-capillary scheme to test optical nonlinearity of nanofluids (Opt Express -2009, Physical Review A,-2009) and established the experimental foundation of artificial Kerr medium - first observed in 1981 by Arthur Askin (Nobel Prize Physics-2018).

            In 2010-2012, I crossed discipline from optics to biomedicine at Harvard Medical School. I led the development of adaptive microendoscopy optics techniques (Massachusetts General Hospital- Advanced Microscopy Core), that is further applied to a board range of disease mice models from aortic allografts (Am J Transplant-2012), taste sensation (Sci Report -2013) and colorectal tumor development (Nat Protocol -2012).

             Since 2013, I led the establishment of biomedical optics at ANU. Shortly, after my invention of a fluidic-lenses shaping kits for smartphone microscopy (2014 ANSTO Innovative Technology Award), I won successive competitive grants (2016-2023, $2.87 million as lead PI and $12.6 million as co-PI).  Since 2022,  I established the development of Spatial Adaptive Imaging and lithography (SAIL) tools that are designed to accelerate the micro-Avatars of tissue (MAT). My team is dedicated to use SAIL to advance the understanding of how cell communities interact and respond to extracellular fluid forces, surface adhesion factors and 3D microstructure to create MAT.


Researcher's projects

Complete List of Published Work in ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-3912-6095

Scientific goal of my group is to understand the 3D physical cues (fluid, matrix and surface topology) that different cell communities use to control their final tissue fate. Our goal is to create 3D Micro-Avatar of Tissues (MAT) models that are viable substitutes for organs. 

Stroma is a multifaceted tissue found in all organs that is essential to support organ function. Stromal cells (i.e. fibroblasts) play a critical role in secreting growth factors or cytokines that either support or send signals to other specialist cells to perform their role (e.g. build tissue niche or fight immunity).  Instead of focusing on one type of organ/tissue type, we are currently focus on developing a stroma MAT. Stromal cells are highly flexible cell types, making them the ideal cells to develop different MAT templates. To develop MAT, we will address the following questions:

Q1. How do MATs sense and respond to extracellular fluid and matrix to maintain homeostasis?

Q2. Do surface adhesion factors and 3D microstructure cues affect the final fate of MATs?

Q3. How do we link a MAT (e.g. tumour) with another MAT (e.g. Villi) to form a complex biological system? This requires us to the alter the physical extracellular environment (fluid and topology) along with varying adhesion factor (matrix) to generate different types of MATs.

Available student projects

Open until filled

To fulfil our mission, we shall be recruiting three PhD candidates join a small and highly dynamic team of researchers (biophysicists, biochemists, computational biologists) to work on the following projects

Question 1. How do MATs sense and respond to extracellular fluid and matrix to maintain homeostasis? In tissue biology, communities of cells interact with the local environment to form whole tissues that then join to become entire organs. Formation of tissue spheroids are the first indicator of MAT units. Unlike single cell layers in 2D, how do MAT respond differently to the different 3D microenvironment. 

Question.2 - Do surface adhesion, fluid flow and 3D microstructure cues affect the final fate of the MAT? Adherent and differentiated cells exist in a tissue matrix that supports their survival and proliferation are constantly being exposed to different environmental cues, but do MAT respond differently to dynamics extracellular conditions, adhesion, fluid flow and microstructure. If so, how do we create these extracellular cues to control the fate of MATs?  

Questions 3 How do we link a MAT (e.g. tumour) with another MAT (e.g. Villi) to form a complex biological system.  The reciprocal feedback between MAT stroma, fluid and their environment will promote de novo-grown MATs so that we can begin to ask complex tissue biology questions related to transition fate of MATs and how MATs grow and mature into different stromal tissue types for different organs.

Unlimited access to cutting edge biophysical tools:  SAIL combines 4D imaging and lithography to support and maximise convergence of organoids and spheroids technologies for 3D Cell based assay development

Our expectations: Applicants are required to hold a 1st Class Honours or Master’s degree in the biophysics and/or biological sciences or other basic science disciplines in physics, chemistry and biology. A good command of the English language is necessary.  We also welcome cell biologists with previous experience in advanced fluorescence microscopy as well as computational biologists with experience advanced image data analysis. At the ANU, we strongly support equal opportunity and diversity. We welcome all applicants regardless of sex, nationality, ethnic or social background, religion or worldview, disability, age, sexual orientation or gender identity. We are committed to creating family-friendly working conditions. We actively encourage applications by women.

Please send an electronic application including your CV, a short motivation letter and two references to Dr W M Steve Lee

Current student projects

  • Daniel Lim - Senior Imaging Scientist Interplay of Surface Tension and Cell Polarisation in Tissue Development
  • Tienan Xu-  Senior Imaging Scientist, PhD studentAdvancing Volumetric image-based screening with computational optics for 3D tissue models
  • Kieren Dyke, Physics Undergraduate Project, Correlative FRAP for Cell Migration
  • Junyu Liu, Visiting PhD student (Zhejiang University), Computational 2P Polarisation Imaging
  • Sam Holt, Honours student,  Topography directed cell migration
  • Sophie Bulloch, Honours student,  Collective migration modes of spheriods


Past student projects

Through the comprehensive research and teaching program in Optical Biofluidics Imaging Group at ANU, we have trained and graduated over 41 researchers (postdoctoral, PhDs, Masters, Honors Project, summer scholars) that has taken up senior research or industry positions - tenure track position at Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, postdoctoral position at Rockefeller University, University of Adelaide, University research fellowship (Birmingham) and EMBO fellowship. Positions in established biomedical industry including Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), Cochlear Australia , ResMed (Sydney), Beijing Genomics Institute. Research undergraduates from the laboratory have obtained highest distinction from Australian National University, Institution of Engineering and Technology and Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technology.

Junior Research Staff (Primary Supervisor)

2020- 2023 :     Mr Zhiduo Zhang                  CVR, Droneshield|CEO,AbilityOptics Pty Ltd   

2022- 2023 :      Ms Felicity Lin                      PhD student (NUS)

2022 - 2023:      Mr Andrew Waddell,              Royal Australian Navy

2021 - 2022:      Mr Hanqi Lin ,                       UC Santa Cruz (MSc)        

2021 - 2022:      Mr Kwun Ting (Jasper) Li ,     ANU Academic Tutor        

2020 - 2022:      Mr Junxiang Zhang ,             ANU Academic Tutor 

2017 - 2020:      Mr Tao Xu ,                          Toyota Graduate Training Program    

2018 - 2019:     *Dr Yuanqing (Alex) Ma ,        EMBO Fellow, Marseille France    

2017 - 2018:      Dr Samantha Montague,        Research Fellow,             

2016 - 2017:      Dr Roland Fleddermann,         Research Fellow,                          

2014 - 2015:      Mr Zijian Cen,                        Senior Product Analytics                              

Graduate students (Primary supervisor)

2020- 2023 :     Mr Zhiduo Zhang MPhil Candidate CVR, Droneshield|CEO,AbilityOptics Pty Ltd 

2017 - 2022:     Mr Avinash Upadhya- PhD Candidate, Postdoctoral fellow, Uni of Adelaide

2017 - 2021:     Ms Yujie Zheng, PhD Candidate, Optical Engineer, BGI/MGI

2015 -  2019:    Mr Yongxiao Li, PhD Candidate, Associate Professor(Research)

2014 -  2018:     Miss Xuefei (Sherry) He, PhD Candidate  Imaging Engineer, HiSilicon

2014 -  2018:     Miss Tahseen Kamal, PhD Candidate Research Associate UNSW

2016 -  2017:    *Miss Wei Zhong, Master Student (Uni Twente, Netherlands)  Research Scientist, Science Sport

2013 -  2016:     Mr Niko Eckerskorn, PhD Candidate (Australian National University)  Analytics Engineer - CoreLogic RP Data

2015 -  2016:    *Mr Wengou Zhu, Visiting PhD candidate(Sun Yat University, China)        Lecturer

2014 – 2015:    *Mr Redmar Vileg, Visiting Master Student (Uni Twente, Netherlands) PhD student, Leiden Uni 

2013 – 2014:     Mr Huang Longyao, Master by Research  (Australian National University)

2013 – 2014:    *Miss Sjoukje Schoustra, Visiting Master Student (Uni Twente, Netherlands)   PhD student, Twente Uni

2013 – 2014 :   *Miss Li Li,Visiting PhD candidate(Sun Yat University, China) Research Engineering Huawei


2020 - 2021:     Mr Hanqi Lin                          Imaging Technician, ANU  

2019 - 2020:     Mr Junxiang Zhang                 Imaging Technician, ANU

2019 - 2020:     Mr Sanjeev Parbaharan

2018           :    *Ms Hui Wang Undergraduate, Tsinghua University

2017-  2018:     Mr Yonglin Ren

2017-  2017:     Mr Oliver Johnson, University Medal  | ANU-HST-MIT summer scholar

2016 - 2016 :    Ms Emily Campbell  Tillyard prize recipient | ANU-HST-MIT Summer scholar

2016-  2017:     Mr Tienan Xu  ANU-PhD student

2015 - 2016:     Mr Thomas McMenamin  Bioscout-Head R&D

2015 - 2016:     Mr Avinash Upadhya, University Medal  | ANU-HST-MIT summer scholar ANU-PhD student

2015 - 2016:     Mr Yang Lu  CSIRO-PhD student 

2015 - 2016:     Mr Tao Xu    ANU-MSc student

2014 - 2015:     Mr Misha Petkovic System Engineer, Seeing Machine

2015 - 2016      Miss Yi Du

2015 - 2016      Miss Yujie Zheng   ANU-PhD student

2015 - 2016      Mr Lyle Halliday,  University Medal, IET Medal  System Engineer, S Medical

2014 - 2015      Mr Zachary Shafron,  Honorable mention(undergraduate project) System Engineer, Thales

2013 –2015      Mr Avinash Upadhya, Yao Su Student Research Award ANU-PhD student

2014 2015      Ms Rachel Watkins,YouFab Global Creative Awards, Finalist Teacher (STEM)

2014 2015      Mr David Wright

2014 2015      Mr Jaden Rubstein

2014 –2015      Mr Zi Cen (Kenny) Senior Product Analytics Engineer ResMed

2014 2015      Mr Alan Harrison 

2013 2014      Miss Siti Mohd Shariaf   

* visiting


Projects and Grants

Grants information is drawn from ARIES. To add or update Projects or Grants information please contact your College Research Office.

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Updated:  17 April 2024 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers