Paul Tillberg

Hertz Fellow: Paul Tillberg
School

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Area of Study

Electrical Engineering

Fellowship Years

2010 - 2015

Paul Tillberg, PhD, studied technology development for neuroscience at MIT. His diverse scientific interests came together in the co-invention of Expansion Microscopy, a technique in which biological tissues are embedded in a swellable gel material and then swollen by a factor of 4-5x in linear dimension. Nanoscopic structures that were too small to see using diffraction-limited microscopes are preserved by this process, but with the same physical magnification as the macroscopic material, enabling them to be resolved on a standard optical microscope. Due in part to the optical clearing that happens during expansion, this allows sub-diffraction-limited imaging over large tissue volumes. In turn this enables, for example, sub-synaptic imaging over extended neural circuits in the brain.

Before being awarded the Hertz Fellowship to pursue his PhD, Paul received a BA in comparative literature with a minor in music composition in 2003. Afterwards, while traveling to India to teach English at the Norbulingka Institute for Tibetan culture in the foothills of the Himalayas, and returning to the U.S. to search for a best-fit career, Paul had an epiphany. He realized that academic research in engineering offered a synthesis of all the things he valued—the intellectual rigor of studying physical systems, participation in the greater endeavor to continually advance our knowledge of the physical world, and the opportunity to apply scientific insights to developing new technologies that improve people’s lives. Thus, Paul enrolled in basic science courses at a community college, transferring to UC Berkeley to complete a dual BS degree in electrical engineering and materials science.

Thesis:

2016 - Expansion Microscopy: Improving Imaging Through Uniform Tissue Expansion