Niepa μBiointerface Lab

The physicochemical mechanisms that regulate microbial growth in various settings remain poorly understood for reasons linked not only to the versatility of the microorganisms but also to the challenge of designing new platforms to study or control them. The mission of the μBiointerface Lab is to develop translational-research programs that elucidate these mechanisms by designing sustainable control strategies for microbes relevant to health, industry, and the environment. Our research plan is to pursue three interrelated research thrusts to:

  • Eliminate pathogenic microbial communities (biofilms) associated with implantable devices using conductive substrate interfaces
  • Model pathogenic and beneficial microbial communities (microbiomes) in artificial microniches made of soft biomaterial
  • Control beneficial interfacial biofilms using surface-active compounds

Faculty

Tagbo Niepa

Tagbo H.R. Niepa

Arthur Hamerschlag Associate Professor, Chemical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering

Tagbo H.R. Niepa is the Arthur Hamerschlag Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. Niepa received his bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering from Syracuse University, after transferring from the University of Dortmund, Germany. He also received his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Syracuse University. Niepa held a Postdoctoral Fellowship for Academic Diversity in the University of Pennsylvania's department of chemical and biomolecular engineering. Most recently, he served as an assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh.

Niepa received the prestigious National Institutes of Health Director's New Innovator Award to support unconventional approaches to major challenges in biomedical and behavioral research. He also received a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Office
3111 Doherty Hall
Email
tniepa@andrew.cmu.edu
Google Scholar
Tagbo H.R. Niepa

Projects

Research Team

Amy Apgar

Amy Apgar

Doctorate

Research interests
Probiotic formulation and delivery using nanocultures, Clostridioides difficile infection, gnotobiotic animal studies
Email
aapgar@andrew.cmu.edu
Ann Badia

Ann Badia

Doctorate

Research interests
Bioprospection of human-derived probiotics, Matlab-based assessment of microbiome-dynamics, bacteria-surface interactions
Email
abadia@andrew.cmu.edu
Camila Cue

Camila Cue

Doctorate

Research interests
Electrochemical therapy for targeted treatments, developing new approaches to combat multidrug-resistant microorganisms, improving treatments for oral healthcare such as peri-implantitis
Email
ccue@andrew.cmu.edu
Huda Usman

Huda Usman

Doctorate

Research interests
Developing nanoculture system to grow microbial dark matter, magnetic microbial housing, microfluidics, multispecies interactions in sessile drops
Email
husman@andrew.cmu.edu
Tianyi Liu

Tianyi Liu

Masters

Research interests
Interfacial and metabolic properties of skin microbes, rheological properties of interfacial biofilm, living materials at oil-water interfaces
Email
tliu4@andrew.cmu.edu
Shakira Martinez Vasquez

Shakira Martinez Vasquez

Masters

Research interests
Interfacial and metabolic properties of skin microbes, rheological properties of interfacial biofilm, living materials at oil-water interfaces
Email
shakiram@andrew.cmu.edu
Kaitlyn Bhalla

Kaitlyn Bhalla

Undergraduate

Research interests
Interfacial phenomena associated with ultra small microbes
Email
kbhalla2@andrew.cmu.edu
Nikhita Bontha

Nikhita Bontha

Undergraduate

Research interests
High-throughput imaging and computer-based analysis of species interactions
Email
nbontha@andrew.cmu.edu
Naomi Dibong

Naomi Dibong

Undergraduate

Research interests
Bacteria-surface interactions, functional antimicrobial surfaces
Email
nid@andrew.cmu.edu
Crystal Echeverria

Crystal Echeverria

Undergraduate

Research interests
High-throughput imaging and computer-based analysis of species interactions
Email
crecheve@andrew.cmu.edu

Publications

Refereed journal papers

  1. Niepa, T.H.R., Locke, L.W., Corcoran, T.E., Lee, J.S. Editorial: Mechanobiology of biofilms and associated host-pathogen interactions. Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology (2024) 14:1416131. doi: 10.3389/fcimb.2024.1416131.
  2. Abd, G., Sánchez Díaz, Ra., Gupta, A., Niepa, T.H.R., Ramakrishna, S., Mondal, K., Sharma, A., Lantada, A. D., Islam, M. Carbon nanomaterials-based electrically conductive scaffolds for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. MedComm - Biomaterials and Applications 3 (2), e76. (2024) doi: 10.1002/mba2.76.
  3. Balmuri, S.R., Noaman, S., Usman, H., Niepa, T.H.R. Altering the interfacial rheology of Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus with N-acetyl cysteine and cysteamine. Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology (2024) 13, 1338477.
  4. Badha, V.S., Niepa, T.H.R., Gharbi, M. A. Topological defects at smectic interfaces as a potential tool for the biosensing of living microorganisms. (2023). ArXhiv
  5. Lieber, A., Hildebrandt, D., Davidson, S., Rivero, J., Usman, H., Niepa, T.H.R., Hornbostel, K. Demonstration of Direct Ocean Carbon Capture Using Encapsulated Solvents. (2023) Chemical Engineering Journal 470 (2023) 144140.
  6. Balmuri, S.R., Phandanouvong-Lozano, V., House, S.D., Yang, J.C., Niepa, T.H.R. Mucoid Switch Provides a Growth Advantage to Pseudomonas aeruginosa at Oil-Water Interfaces. ACS Applied Bio Materials 2022, 5, 5, 1868–1878. Early Career Forum – Invited Article. Featured cover art.
  7. Davidson, S-L & Niepa, T.H.R. Controlling Microbial Dynamics through Selective Solute Transport Across Functional Nanocultures. ACS Applied Polymer Materials 2022, 4, 5, 2999-3012. Early Career Forum – Invited Article. Featured cover art.
  8. Davidson, S-L & Niepa, T.H.R. Micro-technologies for Assessing Microbial Dynamics in Controlled Environments. Frontiers in Microbiology 12 (2022) 745835.
  9. Uzoukwu, E., Phandanouvong-Lozano, V., Usman, H., Sfeir, C.S., Niepa, T.H.R. Droplet-based microfluidics as a high-throughput method to investigate the human oral microbiome. Biotechnology Advances 55 (2022) 10790.
  10. Balmuri, S.R., Keck, N, Niepa, T.H.R. Assessing the performance of wax-based microsorbents for oil remediation. Colloids and Surfaces A: Physicochemical and Engineering Aspects 627 (2021) 127227.
  11. Usman, H., Davidson, S-L., Manimaran, N.H., Nguyen, J.T., Seth, R., Bah, A., Beckman, E., Niepa, T.H.R. Design of a Well-Defined Poly(Dimethylsiloxane)-Based Microbial Nanoculture System. Materials Today Communications 2021, 27, 102185.
  12. Coenye, T., Kjellerup, B., Stoodley, P., Bjarnsholt, T., the 2019 Biofilm Bash Participants (Niepa, T.H.R.). The future of biofilm research – Report on the '2019 Biofilm Bash'. Biofilm 2020, 2, 100012.
  13. Manimaran, N.H., Usman, H., Kamga, K., Davidson, S-L., Beckman, E., Niepa, T.H.R. Developing a Functional Poly(dimethylsiloxane)-Based Microbial Nanoculture System Using Dimethylallylamine. ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces 2020, 12, 45, 50581–50591. Featured cover art.
  14. Balmuri, S.R., Waters, N.G., Hegemann, J., Kierfeld, J., Niepa, T.H.R. Material Properties of Films of mucoid and non-mucoid Pseudomonas aeruginosa isolates. Acta Biomaterialia 118 (2020) 129–140.
  15. Parry-Nweye, E.*, Onukwugha, N.*, Balmuri, S.R., Shane, J.L., Kim, D., Koo, H., Niepa, T.H.R. Electrochemical Strategy for Eradicating Fluconazole-Tolerant Candida albicans using implantable Titanium. ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces 2019, 11, 40997−41008.
  16. Niepa, T.H.R.*, Vaccari L*, Leheny RL, Goulian M, Lee D, and Stebe KJ. Films of bacteria at Interfaces (FBI): Remodeling of fluid interfaces by Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Scientific Reports 7 (2017) 17864.
  17. Vaccari, L., Molaei, M., Niepa, T.H.R., Lee D#, Leheny LR, and Stebe KJ#. Films of Bacteria at Interfaces. Advances in Colloid and Interface Science 247 (2017) 561–572.
  18. Kim, D., Sengupta, A., Niepa, T.H.R., Lee, B.H., Weljie, A., Freitas-Blancos, V.S., Murata, R.M., Stebe, K.J.#, Lee, D.#, Koo, H. Candida albicans stimulates Streptococcus mutans microcolony development via cross-kingdom biofilm-derived metabolites. Scientific Reports 7 (2017) 41332.
  19. Niepa, T.H.R., Wang, H., Gilbert, J.L., and Ren, D#. Eradication of Pseudomonas aeruginosa cells by cathodic electrochemical currents delivered with graphite electrodes. Acta Biomaterialia 50 (2017) 344-352.
  20. Murphy, D., Gemmell, B., Vaccari, L., Li, C., Bacosa, H., Evans, M., Gemmell, C., Harvey, T., Jalali, M., Niepa, T.H.R. An in-depth survey of the oil spill literature since 1968: Long term trends and changes since Deepwater Horizon. Marine Pollution Bulletin 113 (1-2) (2016) 371–379.
  21. Hann, D.S., Niepa, T.H.R., Stebe, K.J.#, Lee, D.#. One-step generation of cell-viable compartments via polyelectrolyte complexation in an aqueous two-phase system. ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces 8 (38) (2016) 25603–25611.
  22. Niepa, T.H.R., Hou, L., Jiang, H., Goulian, M., Koo, H., Stebe, K.J.#, and Lee, D.#. Microbial Nanoculture as an Artificial Microniche. Scientific Reports 6 (2016) 30578.
  23. Niepa, T.H.R., Wang, H., Dabrowiak, J.C., Gilbert, J.L., Ren, D. Synergy between tobramycin and trivalent chromium ion in electrochemical control of Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Acta Biomaterialia 36 (2016) 286–295.
  24. Niepa, T.H.R., Snepenger, L.M., Wang, H., Sivan, S., Gilbert, J.L., Jones, M.B., Ren, D. Sensitizing Pseudomonas aeruginosa cells to antibiotics by electrochemical disruption of membrane functions. Biomaterials 74 (2016) 267-279.
  25. Niepa, T.H.R., Gilbert, J.L, and Ren, D#. Controlling Pseudomonas aeruginosa persister cells by weak electrochemical currents and synergistic effects with tobramycin. Biomaterials 33(30) (2012) 7356-7365.
  26. Szkotak, R., Niepa, T.H.R., Jawrani, N., Gilbert, J.L., Jones, M.B., Ren, D. Differential Gene Expression to Investigate the Effects of Low-level Electrochemical Currents on Bacillus subtilis. AMB Express 1 (2011) 39.

Refereed education conference papers (published)

  1. Hornbostel, K., Lieber, A., Riveroa, J., Hildebrandt, D., Snodgrass, C., Gamble, W., Neal, Z., Davidson, S., Usman, H., Niepa, T.H.R. Direct ocean carbon capture using membrane contactors (November 14, 2022). Proceedings of the 16th Greenhouse Gas Control Technologies Conference (GHGT-16) October 23-24, 2022.
  2. Yin, S., Wosu, S., Niepa, T.H.R., Trahan, K.W. Diversifying the Advanced Engineering Workforce: Why Low-Income Students Pursue Master's Degrees. 53rd Annual Conference of the Northeast Educational Research Association – October 19-21, 2022.
  3. Yin, S., Wosu, S., Niepa, T.H.R., Trahan, K.W. Graduate Engineering Education Scholarship: funding and supporting low-income students' advanced degrees for industry. 52nd Annual Meeting of the Northeastern Educational Research Association – Virtual Meeting October 13-15, 2021.
  4. House, S.D.*, Balmuri, S.R.*, Yang, J.C., Niepa, T.H.R. Investigating the Mucoid Switch of Pseudomonas aeruginosa at Oil-Water Interfaces. Proceedings of Microscopy & Microanalysis 25 (Suppl 2) 2019 1128.

Patents and other intellectual properties

IP4.  Niepa, T.H.R., Davidson, S-L. (2020). Microcapsules and methods of using the same (U.S. Patent US11534408B2). This IP holds two inventions.

IP3.  Romo, L., Garritano, N., Niepa, T.H.R. (2013). Door Handle Sterilization System, WO Patent 2,013,025,894.

IP2.  Ren, D. #, Zhang M., Niepa, T.H.R., and Gilbert J. (2013). System and method for controlling bacterial cells with weak electric currents. (U.S. Patent 8,663,914).

IP1.  Ren, D. #, Zhang M., Niepa, T.H.R., and Gilbert J. (2014). System and method for controlling bacterial persister cells with weak electric currents. (U.S. Patent 8,569,027).

Join our research lab

Are you looking to make a meaningful impact as a graduate or postdoctoral research fellow? Our lab focuses on cutting-edge research in three exciting areas:

  1. Microfluidics technology for high-throughput assessment of microorganisms: Explore innovative ways to integrate microfluidic chips with high-throughput imaging. Analyze large amounts of visual data at the single-cell level, advancing drug discovery, diagnostics, and personalized medicine.
  2. Interfacial rheology and mechanobiology of microorganisms: Dive into the fascinating world of biofilms. Investigate their properties, growth mechanisms, and impact on natural and built environments. Uncover the secrets of these microbial communities.
  3. Functional and antimicrobial materials: Work with materials that exhibit antibacterial and antiviral properties. Develop functional materials that inhibit microbial adherence through physicochemical factors.

Funding opportunities: We offer funding through federal grants and diversity supplements, providing a supportive environment for your research journey.

If you're excited about scientific exploration and want to contribute to groundbreaking discoveries, contact us! Submit your CV to tniepa@andrew.cmu.edu to discuss this exciting opportunity.

Media mentions

CMU Engineering

Engineering faculty awarded professorships

Carnegie Mellon University has awarded professorships to five exceptional faculty members in the College of Engineering.

Chemical Engineering

Taking microbial research from nano to global

Tagbo Niepa presented at symposia in Colombia and Morocco to facilitate international collaboration and apply innovations from his lab to global health challenges in different contexts.

Cue and Usman earn Emerging Researchers National Conference awards

ChemE Ph.D. students Camila Cue and Huda Usman gave oral presentations at the 2024 Emerging Researchers National (ERN) Conference in STEM. Cue won 1st place in the Technology and Engineering - Biomedical Engineering track of the graduate oral presentations.

Chemical Engineering

Studying microbes in marine environments and microcapsules

Ph.D. student Huda Usman is applying her experience at the prestigious Marine Biological Laboratory to her research miniaturizing the culture system.

Chemical Engineering

Tagbo H.R. Niepa joins ChemE faculty

In fall 2023, the Department of Chemical Engineering will welcome Tagbo H.R. Niepa as an associate professor.