Paul Ronald Selvin

Title Professor
Department Department of Physics
Office 365 Loomis Laboratory

Research Aims

To study the structure and dynamics of biological macromolecules using single molecule fluorescence. Specific biological systems of interest include molecular motors (conventional and unconventional myosins, kinesins, dyneins), receptors involved in neuronal transmissions (voltage-controlled potassium ion channels; ligand-gated ion channels; mechanosensitive-channels), and more recently, genomics. The lab is split between technology development and biological applications. Technique development includes development of single molecule fluorescence, particularly Fluorescence Imaging with One Nanometer Accuracy (FIONA) and related techniques. These are able to get 1 nm accuracy in >2 msec, and 8 nm resolution. Both one- and two-photon excitation is used, where the latter we can get nanometer accuracy and resolution in all three dimensions. Other optical techniques are DOPI (Defocused Orientation and Position Imaging of myosin V), SHREC (Single molecule High REsolution with Colocalization, also known as 2D-FIONA), SHRIMP (Super High Resolution IMaging with Photobleaching), and single-molecule fluorescence resonance energy transfer. Another project is performing single molecule measurements with an optical trap in a cell (as opposed to regular in vitro measurements).

While we do basic research, the hope is that one day this will have real impact. So far, we have a number of patents that have been commercialized: 3 patents on lanthanide-chelates, which are used in high-throughput screening of drugs; 2 patents on single-molecule fluorescence for detecting genetic changes; 1 for detecting super-high-resolution with a few (as opposed to one) dyes; 1 for obtaining a super-stable microscope stage.


Research Accomplishments

  • 1.5 nm spatial localization of single fluorescent molecules with 1-500 msec temporal resolution via Fluorescence Imaging with One Nanometer Accuracy (FIONA).
  • Determination of hand-over-hand vs. inchworm model for single-molecule myosin V [Yildiz, Science,2003], myosin VI [Yildiz, J. Bio. Chem., 2004; Park, Mol. Cell, 2006], and kinesin [Yildiz, Science, 2004].
  • Determination of step-size and rate of stepping of kinesin, dynein in vivo [Kural, Science, 2005].
  • < 8 nm spatial resolution between two identical fluorescent dyes [Gordon, PNAS, 2004].
  • < 8 nm spatial resolution between two differently-colored fluorescent dyes [Yildiz, Biophy. J., 2006].
  • Development of Lanthanide Resonance Energy Transfer (LRET). This included a 100-fold improvement in signal to background over conventional fluorescence resonance energy transfer [Selvin, PNAS, 1994; Selvin, JACS, 1994].
  • First detection of atomic-scale conformational changes in a voltage-controlled ion channel, using LRET [Cha, Nature, 1999].
  • The S4 voltage-sensor does not undergo a large, voltage-dependent, membrane crossing: measured by LRET [Posson, Nature, 2006].
  • First direct detection of an actin-dependent conformational change in myosin [Xiao, PNAS, 1998].
  • An actin-dependent conformational change in myosin [Xiao, Nat. Struct. Bio., 2003].
  • Detected single fluorescent molecules, their polarization states [Ha, PRL, 1996], quantum jumps [Ha, Chem. Phys. Let., 1997] spectra, and energy transfer between a single donor-acceptor pair via confocal and Near-Field Scanning Optical Microscopy [Ha, PNAS, 1996].
  • Developed new luminescent lanthanide chelates that are alternatives to fluorescent dyes and are particularly useful for discriminating against background fluorescence. This includes their synthesis [Li, JACS, 1995], polarization [Reifenberger, J. Phys. Chem., 2003], and atomic (x-ray) structure [Purdy, Acta Cryst. 2002; Selvin, Inorganic Chem., 1996].
  • Developed new class of luminescent dyes with tunable emission color and lifetime [Chen, JACS, 2000].
  • Used picosecond fluorescence spectroscopy to detect anharmonic torsional modes in DNA [Selvin, Science, 1992].



  • Ph.D.: Physics, University of California-Berkeley (December 1990).
    • Thesis Title: “DNA Dynamics: From Picoseconds to Milliseconds.”
    • Research Director: Dr. Melvin Klein, Staff Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory.
    • My research involved developing time-resolved Fluorescence and Electron Paramagnetic Resonance Spectrometers and applying them to study the structure and dynamics of well characterized DNA, both in vivo and in vitro.
  • B.S.: Physics (Minor in Chemistry), University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1983. (3.93 GPA).


Research Positions

  • Faculty Member Department Affiliate, Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory, 2009-
  • Faculty Affiliate of Cell & Developmental Biology (2005-present)
  • Professor, Departments of Physics and Biophysics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Aug 04-present).
  • Associate Professor, Departments of Physics and Biophysics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Aug 00-Aug 04).
  • Assistant Professor, Departments of Physics and Biophysics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Aug 97-Aug 00).
  • Staff Scientist, Life Science Division, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory (Oct 95-July 97).
  • Research Chemist, University of California-Berkeley, Chemistry Department (Nov. 93-Sept 95).
  • Post-Doctoral Research Associate with Dr. John Hearst, University of California-Berkeley, Chemistry Department (1991-93).
  • Graduate Student under Dr. Melvin Klein, University of California-Berkeley, Physics Department (1986-90).
  • Undergraduate Research Assistant for Professors Dan Axelrod and John Langmore, University of Michigan (1980-83).
  • Scientist (instrument development), Coulter Biomedical Research Corporation (Summers 1980-82).



  • Professor, “Single Molecule Biophysics (Grad seminar),” Physics 598IBT, UIUC, Fall 2007.
  • Professor, “Introduction to Biological Physics Research (Undergrad seminar),” Physics 498IBT, UIUC, Fall 2006.
  • Professor, “Thermal & Quantum Physics,” Physics 213/214, UIUC, Fall 2005.
  • Professor, “Introduction to Biological Physics,” Physics 398Bio, UIUC, Spring 2003; Physics 498Bio, UIUC, Spring 2007, Spring 2008, Spring 2010.
  • Developed and taught new course, “Introduction to Biological Physics,” Physics 398Bio, UIUC, Spring 2002.
  • Professor, “How Things Work,” Phys140, UIUC, Fall 1998,  Spring 1999, Fall 1999, Fall 2000, Spring 2001.
  • Thesis Committee, Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa Italy, August 2001
  • Professor, Laboratory for Introductory Physics (Mechanics, without Calculus), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Spring 1998, Fall 2002.
  • Advisor to over a dozen graduate students, a dozen post-docs, and two undergraduates, 1997-present.
  • Lecturer: Graduate-level Biophysical Chemistry, University of California-Berkeley, 1/3 semester, 1993.
  • Teaching Assistant-Physics Dept., University of California-Berkeley, 4 semesters, 1983-86.
  • Resource Person for High School Science Students, Lawrence Hall of Science (1989).
  • Senior Thesis advisor to Sharad Shanbhag, 1991; Monique Farantzos, 1995; Wendy Siman, 2007; Caitlin Sullivan, 2008.


Committees and Service


  • NIH Biological Chemistry and Molecular Biophysics group (BCMB) Study section: Ad-Hoc Member, July 24-25, 2016
  • NIH EBIT Study section: Ad-Hoc Panel Member, November 14, 2014
  • NIH Special Emphasis Panel, August 12, 2014
  • NIH MSFC Study Section Ad-Hoc Panel Member, June 2012
  • Editorial Board, Optical Nanoscopy, Springer Publishing Co., June 2011-
  • NIH Biophysics Microscopy and Imaging Study Section: October 2007, October 2008
  • Conference co-organizer, American Chemical Society, Single Molecule, Boston, MA August 19-24, 2007
  • JGP Editorial Advisory Board, January 1, 2007
  • American Chemical Society: co-organizer of Single Molecule Session, Aug. 2007
  • NIH Biophysics MFSC Study Section: June 2006, February 2008
  • Awards Committee, Biophysical Soc, 2005-2008
  • Biophysical Society Council, 2004
  • Editorial Board, Bioconjugate Chemistry, 2004-
  • Member, 2004 Program Committee for the Biophysics Society Annual Meeting
  • NIH BBCB Study Section Ad-Hoc Panel Member, February 2001. October 2001
  • NIH Advisory Committee on Single Molecule Detection, April 2000
  • NIH SBIR Study Section Ad-Hoc Reviewer, 1999, July 2001
  • Member, Editorial Board, Journal of Fluorescence, 1998-2001
  • NIH Study Section for R01’s: channels: Nov. 2005
  • Reviewer for Nature Communications; Optics Express; Journal of Neuroscience; Science; Nature Biotechnology; Proceedings of the National Acad. of Science; Biophysical Journal; Journal of Molecular Biology; Biomedical Optics Express; Bioconjugate Chemistry; Analytical Biochemistry; Journal of Cell Biology; Trends in Cell Biology; Nature Structural & Molecular Biology; Journal of Fluorescence; Physical Biology; Journal of the American Chemical Society; BioMed Central; Nature Methods; Nature Nanotechnology; Nature Chemical Biology; Journal of General Physiology; Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology; Small; Langmuir; Sensors & Actuators: B. Chemical; ACS Nano.


  • Advisor to International Science and Technology Center (ISTC) #1734, via U.S. State Dept., “Development of an original, high-sensitive,express method for biological objects identification and control in water environment using scanning probe microscopy,” Moscow, Russia. May 2001 – present.
  • Thesis Committee, Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa, Italy, Fall 2000.


  • Physics Appointments, Promotions & Strategic Planning Committee for 2005-present
  • Physics Faculty Recognition Committee, Biological physics liaison, 2005-2013
  • Executive Committee of the Molecular Biophysics Training Grant, 2003
  • Executive Committee of the Center for Biophysics and Computational Biology, 2003
  • Conference organizer, 50th Midwest Solid State Physics Conference, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana, Oct 18-20, 2002
  • Colloquium Chair, Physics Department, Fall 2001; Co-chair 2012-2013.
  • Qualifying Examination Committee, Biophysics Center, Spring 2001
  • Qualifying Examination Committee, Physics Department, Fall 1999, Spring 2001
  • Undergraduate Curriculum Committee, Physics Department, Fall 2001
  • Panel member: “On being a successful academic: A guide for the perplexed,” UIUC Office of Provost, May 24, 2001
  • Engineering-Chemistry Liason Subcommittee of Engineering College Executive Committee, 2000-02 (Chair, 2000-01)
  • Physics/Molecular Biophysics Search Committee, Fall 1999-Spring 2000, Fall 2002
  • Guest lecturer: Physics 398 “Biophysics as a Career”  Fall 2000
  • Guest Lecturer, Physics 199B, “What a physicist can do for biology,” Fall 2000
  • Biological Physics Curriculum Committee, Fall 2000
  • UIUC Research Board Proposals Reviewer, Fall 2000, Fall 2001
  • Physics Advisory Committee, Fall 2000–Fall 2002
  • Molecular Biophysics Seminar Organizer, Fall 2000
  • Panel Member, General Engineering 393, “Business Opportunities in Biotech,” Sept. 2000
  • Prelimary Examination Committee (approximately ten physics and biophysics students), Fall 1999-present
  • Thesis Committee (approximately twenty-five physics and biophysics students), Fall 1999-present
  • Undergraduate Physics Majors Advisor, Fall 1999-present


Science Writing

  • Contributing Writer, Science, News and Comment, Research News (1990-95)
  • Science Writer (AAAS mass media fellowship), Detroit Free Press (Summer 1990).



  • Grass Imaging Fellowship, Marine Biological Lab, Woods Hole, Mass., Summer 2014.
  • Nikon Fellowship, Marine Biological Lab, Woods Hole, Mass., Summer 2010.
  • University Scholar, UIUC, 2006-2007 (5 or 6 selected from campus every year).
  • The International Raymond and Beverly Sackler Prize in Biophysics, Tel Aviv University, 2006.
  • Faculty Member of the Precision Proteomics Research Theme, Institute for Genomic Biology, 2005-
  • Fellow, American Physical Society, 2004-
  • Physics John Bardeen Sony Faculty Scholar: Aug. 04-Aug 07.
  • Michael & Kate Bárány Award for Young Investigators, Biophysical Society, 2004.
  • Biophysical Society Council, 2004.
  • Received National Science Foundation CAREER Award–a most prestigious honor to “support exceptionally promising college and university junior faculty who are committed to the integration of research and education” (quote from the NSF), 2000.
  • Named Cottrell Scholar, Research Corporation (fewer than twenty of these awards are made annually), 2000.
  • Xerox Award for Faculty Research (one of three Asst. Professors in the College of Engineering) Univ. of Illinois, 2000.
  • Beckman Fellow, Center for Advanced Studies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Spring 2000.
  • Listed in Offices of Instructional Resources “Lists of Teachers Ranked as Excellent,” for P140,   Fall 1999, Fall 2001, for Phys 398bio, Spr 2002, Spr 2003.
  • Research Innovation Award, Research Corp. 1999.
  • Dye development work featured in News section of Analytical Chemistry.
  • 1999 Fluorescence Young Investigator Award, Biophysical Society.
  • Muscle and mysosin research featured in Biophotonics International magazine, May 1999, June 2006.
  • Principal Investigator of NIH R01 grant ranked in top 13.3% (2008), 9.8% (2006), 10.4% (2005), 4.4% (2003), 0.2% (2000) and 2.4% (1996).
  • Co-Author of NIH grant ranked in top: 4% (4-yr funding, 1994); 11% (5-yr funding, 1988).
  • Searle Foundation nominee from Univ. of Illinois, 1997.
  • Invited Speaker at over 100 universities and conferences 1996-present.
  • AAAS Mass Media Science and Engineering Fellow, 1990.
  • Office of Technology Assessment Congressional Fellow Winner, 1990.
  • National Science Foundation Graduate Student Fellowship, 1983-86.
  • University of Michigan: Honors Program, 1979-82.
  • Member: Amer. Assoc. Adv. of Science; American Physical Society; Biophysical Soc.