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Sonia Antoranz Contera


I am a Spanish physicist, currently I work as an Associate Professor in Biological Physics at Oxford Physics Department. I am also the proud (and busy) mother of two children.
In the lab, by Ione SaizarIn the lab, by Ione Saizar
My work lies at the interface of physics, biology and nanotechnology. I am an expert in atomic force microscopy of biological systems and I have a special interest in the role of mechanics in biology. We work on mechanics of cells, proteins and membranes and we design nanomaterials that mimic biological functions for bio/medical applications such as drug delivery or cell cultures. We are mainly dediated to quantitative aspects of these applications (transport and mechanics).

Currently I have two funded projects:

Nanomechanical aspects of plant cells wallswith Prof Ian Moore of Oxford Plant Sciences. Funded by the Leverhulme trust.

Electrophysiological-mechanical coupled pulses in neural membranes: a new paradigm for clinical therapy of SCI and TBI (NeuroPulse) which is the winner of the EPSRC Healthcare technology challenges. Antoine Jerusalem (PI, Oxford Engineering), myself (co-I) with clinical partners in Oxford and Cambridge will be working on advanced uses of ultrasound to control neuronal function.

I was funder, director and co-director of the Oxford Martin Programme on Nanotechnology (former Institute of Nanoscience for Medicine) at the Oxford Martin School from 2007 to 2015 and I am Fellow of Green Templeton College. I am a Member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Nanotechnology 2014-2016 . Recently I have also become a member of the Physical Sciences Strategy Advisory Team of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) of the UK.

I am a frequent public speaker on the role that Physics and Nanotechnology should (and will!) play in the future of Biology and Medicine and I have published several pieces on Nanotechnology for the general public, such as this one in WIRED magazine on six future forms, or this one on the World Economic Forum Agenda : Can nanotechnology reduce inequality?
I speak Chinese, Japanese and several European languages and I am now enjoying the hard and wonderful process of learning Arabic.

I am a member of several international, multidisciplinary collaborations, such as the JSPS funded Core-to-Core programme on sensing devicesand the newly established International brain Mechanics and Trauma Lab. I also collaborate with the Scenarios Programme of the Oxford Said Business School.

I graduated in Physics from Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (93), then did graduate studies at Beijing Languages and Culture University (94-95) and worked as a researcher at the Czech Academy of Sciences with Prof. Zlatko Knor, one of the pioneers of atomic scale imaging of surfaces (95, liquid-solid interfaces with STM).
Then I moved to Japan on a Japanese Government Monbushō scholarship and got my PhD from Osaka University's Dept. of Applied Physics, Graduate School of Engineering (2000, Layered materials/scanning probe microscopy, with Prof H Iwasaki as supervisor ).

In 2000 I was awarded an E.U. Fellowship to Japan at the Institute of Scientific and Industrial Research SANKEN, Osaka University (nanostructures in bio/nanoelectronics). Later, I became a Research Assistant Professor in 2002, at the Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Centre, Univ. of Aarhus, Denmark, setting up an AFM lab for biological experiments in Flemming Besenbacher's iNANO centre (HIV-1 RNA tertiary structure, Nanoscience and tissue engineering approaches to improved biocompatibility).
In 2003 I moved to Oxford University Bionanotechnology IRC (carbon nanotube biosensors, bionanointerfaces, and biophysics of membrane proteins, scanning probe microscopy).

In 2007 I became a lecturer and RCUK Academic Fellow at Oxford Physics and in 2008 started the Oxford Martin Institute of Nanoscience for Medicine at the Oxford Martin School in 2007.

I work with labs all over the world and I have been a visiting professor at Kwazulu-Natal University Medical Faculty in South Africa, to set AFMs for HIV research, and at Tabata's lab at Tokyo University's Centre for BioNano Integration for appplication of THZ spectroscopy to biological membranes; I have had research stays at Ando's high-speed AFM lab in Kanazawa University and Moscow Lomonosov State University.


I am member of several networks and research collaborations:
Oxford Martin Programme on Nanotechnology
JSPS funded Core-to-Core programme
International brain Mechanics and Trauma Lab.

I collaborate with researchers all over the world -which if the best part of the job!- right now I am working with:

  • Dr Kislon Voitchovsky (Durham U) on interfaces with AFM
  • Dr Isabel Llorente (UCL) in micro and nanomanipulation of carbon nanoparticles in solution
  • Dr Sonia Trigueros in nanomedicine projects
  • Eneko Axpe (UPV/EHU), nanomechanics or biopolymers and lipids combining AFM and Positron Annihilation Spectroscopy
  • Jihan Zhou, Prof Dehai Liang, Peking University, Nanomechanics of lipid-based nanostructures
  • Ian Moore, Oxford Plant Sciences. "Thinking inside the box: how do plants build organised walls?" Funded by the Leverhulme Trust from 2014-2018.
  • Shingo Makishi and Chikara Dohno from SANKEN, Osaka University, DNA nanostructures on lipid bilayers.


In the past I have collaborated with Prof. Arvind Raman (Purdue), Prof. Hiroshi Iwasaki (Osaka U), Prof. Hiroyuki Noji (Tokyo U), Prof. H. Tabata (Tokyo U), Prof. Sergi Civit (U Barcelona), Dr. Roger Proksch (Asylum Research), Dr Stephan Grage (Karlsruhe), Prof. Ando's AFM lab, ... and a lot of great researchers!


5.5.2016 , 4:00 I am delivering the Oxford Materials Colloquium . Quantitative design of materials for health: embrace biophysics!

Our new atomic force microscope has been installed!
And (right) the first atomic resolution image of mica in water.

  • Paper accepted: Magneto-electrical orientation of lipid-coated graphitic micro-particles in solution
    in RSC Advances. By J. Nguyen, S. Contera, and I. Llorente García.
  • 30.03.2016 Our new Cypher AFM has been delivered from Santa Barbara!
  • My perspective article entitled "Designer cantilevers for even more accurate quantitative measurements of biological systems with multifrequency AFM" has been published in Nanotechnology. It is a Perspective on this work by Luna's lab.
  • EPSRC just made it official: NeuroPulse has been selected as one of the winners of the Healthcare technology challenges.

    Antoine Jerusalem (PI), myself (co-I) and collaborators (see below) will be working on advanced uses of ultrasound to control neuronal function. A postdoctoral position will soon be open in my lab.
    Electrophysiological-mechanical coupled pulses in neural membranes: a new paradigm for clinical therapy of SCI and TBI (NeuroPulse)
    NeuroPulseaims at developing and utilising state-of-the-art modelling approaches for the study of electrophysiological and mechanical coupling in a healthy and mechanically damaged axon, nerve and, eventually, spinal cord and brain white-matter tract. The resulting in-silico platform developed by Professor Antoine Jerusalem in Oxford Engineering will be calibrated and validated by means of a comprehensive experimental programme in collaboration with the Department of Physics at Oxford, via co-investigator Professor Sonia Contera. Two teams of clinical project partners in Oxford and Cambridge will participate in the analysis of the results for direct applications in a clinical setting. The clinical support for the research at Oxford will be provided by Dr Damian Jenkins and Mr Tim Lawrence of Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

  • I have become a member of the expert committee for the Novo Nordisk Foundation Challenge Programme 2016.


  • 6-7 July 2016 in 2016 the Royal Society of Microscopy's SPM meeting will take place at Warwick University and I have been asked to be the chair of the AFM in Biology session, which will be about forces and mechanics in Biology. Join us!

Our recent paper "Sub-nanoscale free volume and local elastic modulus of chitosan/carbon nanotube biomimetic nanocomposite scaffold-materials" selected to the 2015 Journal of Materials Chemistry B Hot Papers

This paper describes new methods that enable to measure and to desing two key parameters of future materials for drug-delivery and tissue engineering: nanoscale mechanical properties and crucially mass transport (free volume) using atomic force microscopy (AFM) and positron annihilation spectroscopy (PALS).
The authors of this work are: Eneko Axpe, Loic Bugnicourt, David Merida, M. Goiriena-Goikoetxea, Iraultza Unzueta, R. Sanchez-Eugenia, Jose Angel Garcia, Fernando Plazaola and Sonia Contera.

Paper accepted in Nanoscale Aug 2015.
"Effect of intra-membrane C60 fullerenes on modulus of elasticity and mechanical resistance of gel and fluid lipid bilayers" By Jihan Zhou, Dehai Liang and Sonia Contera
C60 fullerenes stiffen lipid bilayers but they decrease their mechanical resistance, our results have implications for drug delivery and nanotoxicity of C60 particles.

2015年7月 四川大学《纳米技术与生物学和医学的未来》

Read my piece for the WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM Agenda : Can nanotechnology reduce inequality?.

This is a little article I have written for the popular science magazine iDescubre (in Spanish)
La convergencia de la Fisica, la Nanotecnologia y la Biologia

And here an interview for SCU news, in Chinese, 世界因你们而不同——专访牛津大学Sonia Antoranz教授

The website of my lab has migrated to

Photo after Prof Javier Garcia Martinez's second talk at the Oxford Martin School!


Our new book Anticipating 2025: A guide to the radical changes that may lie ahead, whether or not we're ready, is out!

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Head of the Biophysics teaching lab at Oxford Physics from 2014

Coordinator (2013) of the Doctoral Training Center 2 weeks Module on Biological Physics 2013
DTC Modules information here

Teaching AFM and AFM practicals for the DTC Advanced Biophysics Module

Major Option C7: Biological Physics
-Protein structure and folding
-Protein nanomechanics

Physics Today lecture
(1st Year) 2012
-Physics and the future of biology and medicine

Practical Course: Biophysics BP03*****
-Atomic Force Microscopy
(5 star student rating)
-3rd Year Mini Project: biopolymer physics with atomic force microscopy

Biochemistry Department
Bionanotechnology short-option. Atomic Force Microscopy


My research integrates biological physics, nanoscience and scanning probe microsocopy for biomedical applications.

My motivation is to use physics and nanotechnology to understand biological problems and the other way around: to learn from biology to create new bioinspired materials and applications

Physics in biology and how it happens at the biological scales from nm to micron to macroscopic.

  • Interests include: cell mechanical properties, single molecule nanomechanics, membrane protein biophysics, DNA nanomechanics, molecular motors, membrane biophysics.
    Live cell mechanical comminication, shapes, sizes and growth, cells in tissues
    Cell Rheology in 2D/3D culture and in tissues.
  • Molecular forces in biology, physicochemical interactions at bionano-interfaces, nanostructure/biomolecule/cells interactions
  • Interfaces: nanostructured surfaces/liquid-solid interfaces, nano-bio interfaces.


  • Biomimetic functional materials
  • (Nano)physics for medicine, (drug-delivery, tissue engineering, biosensing).


  • High-resolution/high-speed/ atomic force microscopy (AFM), scanning probe microscopy in biology, mechanical properties mapping.
  • Force spectroscopy

Some biological problems I am interested in: cell mechanics,cytoskeleton, extracellular matrix, membranes and membrane proteins

Events, outreach, talks, webcasts, press coverage/contributions....

Blog of events:

- 15.03.16, I take part in EPSRC's London regional workshop as a member of EPSRC Physical Sciences SAT .

- [b] 16.03.16, Speaker at UCL's Materials for Health workshop, Radisson Blue Hotel, Tottenham Court Road, London.

-[b] 8 March 16. I delivered the Condensed Matter physics seminars on "Mechancics and Biology" at the University of Warwick Physics Department hosted by Neil Wilson.

-5 February 2016 I was the speaker of one of the School of Physics colloquia at Trinity College Dublin.

16 Jan 2016, Madrid. I had a wonderful time in a meeting of the WEF communities in Spain, especially with the groups of Global Shapers of Madrid and Barcelona. Lots of energy for shaping the future!

-6 Jan 2016, Oxford. I am a speaker at the "From Molecules to Systems 2016 Winter School" which will take place in St. Catherine's College , Oxford.

-4 December 2015,Seville. Speaking on Nanotechnology in Medicine at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Seville.

-25-27 October 2015,Abu Dhabi. I took part in Abu Dhabi's World Economic Forum Global agenda council as a member of the WEF GAC on Nanotecnology.

- 18 Nov 2015,Cambridge. Spoke at Cambridge, hosted by the Physics Society on the 18th of November on Nanotech, Physcics and the future of biology and medicine

- 6-10 July 2015, Chendu. I taught the course "Nanotechnology and the future of Biology and Medicine" at Sichuan University, China.

- 7 Jul 2015, Chengdu. I was an invited speaker at Sichuan Immersion Programme Symposium on the 7th of July

- The website of my lab has migrated to

- Prof Javier Garcia Martinez director of the Molecular Nanotechnology Lab at the University of Alicante and founder of Rive technology was awarded the prestigious Oxford Martin School Visiting Fellowship for a month and a half visit in May-June 2015, in my Lab which is part of the Oxford Martin Programme on Nanotechnology. We learned lots of chemistry and about entrepreneurship with him, and he gave us three wonderful talks. Here is the video to one at the Oxford Martin School on "Academic Entrepreneurship"

-Invited in Seville's "Jornadas del futuro cientifico" on Nanotechnology and Physics in Biology, Medicine and Tissue Engineering, on the 27th Feb. More info here.
This was a great event.

- Speaker at the SANKEN Core to Core Symposium, 12 December 2015, Osaka, Japan

- I have written Física y nanotecnología en ingeniería de tejidos, o cómo comunicarse con las células usando fuerzas (In Spanish) for Prometeo-us: Blog de Ingeniería Tisular y Medicina Regenerativa.

- Participant at the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Nanotechnology Meeting. Dubai 09-11 November 2014.

- Public lecture at the Cambridge University Physics Society, Wed 26 Nov 2014.

- Invited speaker at Barcelona BioMed Conference on “Transporters and other membrane molecular machines (structures and single molecule analysis)” Barcelona on 17-19 November, 2014.
-Seminar at the Faculty of Science & Technology, University of the Basque Country, Bilbao, Friday 26 Sept 2014.

-Some fotos of the Core to Core Symposium on biosensing that we hosted on the 24-25 July

-Invited speaker, Gordon Research Conference on Membrane Transport Proteins, Keynote Session: New Methods in Membrane Transport Research. July 13-18, 2014 Mount Snow Resort, West Dover, VT USA

- Invited Speaker at Bristol Nanoscience Symposium 2014. Dates: Sunday 14th, Monday 15th and Tuesday 16th September 2014

- Public lecture at the Cambridge University Physics Society, Michaelmas 2014 date and venue TBA

- Invited speaker at Barcelona BioMed Conference on “Transporters and other membrane molecular machines (structures and single molecule analysis)” to be held in Barcelona on 17-19 November, 2014.

-24-25 July at Oxford : Next Generation Sensor Devices for a Healthier, Safer Society - International Networking workshop

-Our new book Anticipating 2025: A guide to the radical changes that may lie ahead, whether or not we're ready, is out!

I took part in the Forces in Biology Meeting: 19th/20th March 2014,

I was invited speaker at Anticipatintg 2025, Sat 22 and Sun 23 March 2014, Birkbeck College, London. A fantastic event with a great panel of speakers trying to make a serious analysis of the potentially radical scenarios that may unfold between now and 2025.

Webcasts of the event "How can we capture the possibilities but avoid the pitfalls of nanotechnology?" - Next Big Thing Here
My bit is here:

26 March 2013 18:30 - 19:45 Nesta, 1 Plough Place, London, EC4A 1DE
Speaker at the Next Big Thing: This London-based event is a collaboration between the Oxford Martin School, Policy Exchange and Nesta: "How can we capture the possibilities but avoid the pitfalls of nanotechnology?" - Next Big Thing More information here

  • Dr Sonia Contera, Co-Director, Oxford Martin Programme on Nanotechnology
  • Dr Eric Drexler, Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology
  • Professor Richard Jones, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation, University of Sheffield
  • John Knowles, Chairman, Advisory Board, UK Nanotechnology Knowledge Transfer Network

Chair: Jessica Bland, Technology Futures, Nesta
Join in on Twitter - #nextbigthing
For more information and booking a seat, please visit

Interviewed on Nanotechnology for Medicine by Strategic North for the publication STRATEGIC TALES
The interview is here

Feb 2013: GRANT awarded by JSPS for “International Research Collaboration Network for Developing Highly Functional Sensing Devices for Health, Safety and Security", within the frame work of the JSPS Core to Core Program, for a collaboration of Osaka Univeristy's SANKEN institute for collaboration wirh labs from Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands, USA, France and my lab in Oxford. 19,850,000 yen/year x 5 years.

Feb 2013: I am interviewed for the Spanish edition of Glamour Magazine!
glamour spglamour sp

15 Feb 2013 Manga author Riko Miyagi visits our lab to research for a new Manga series on a Woman Scientist...

17 Jan 2013 PUBLIC LECTURE 'Nanotechnology and the future of medicine'British Science Association Oxford Branch SciBar PODCAST AVAILABLE

26 DEC 2012, 1 page feature in the print edition of the most popular Spanish Newspaper El Pais, featuturing our work on the future of medicine and an interview. The online edition is here link

Dec 2012. JAPAN TRIP funded by the EPSRC programme Bridging the Gaps 2012. I am visiting Noji's lab at Tokyo University and giving two lectures to master students at the Dept of Chemistry of Tokyo University on AFM and protein nanomechanics. I am also participating in a Symposium at SANKEN , Osaka University as invited speaker and then visiting Tabata lab at Tokyo University for discussing collaboration in IR, THz spectroscopy and nanomaterials...

3 Dec 2012 PUBLIC LECTURE. Physics and the future of medicine.
6:00pm - 7:00pm Martin Wood Complex, Department of Physics, University of Oxford, Parks Road, Oxford, OX13PU, General public (Age 14+)

Nanotechnology feature for the WIRED MAGAZINE special issue on the WIRED WORLD 2013.
You can read the piece here
The piece has also be featured in WIRED MAGAZINE ITALIAN EDITION

Wired 2011: How physicists are moving into biology


Emerging healthcare technologies - how are they changing us?

Feature on my work in Spanish National Newspaper EL Mundo on Tissue Engineering