Advice on asking me for recommendation letters


Since I have had to clarify this on numerous occasions to multiple people who’ve passed through my lab, this is a convenient place to put all these thoughts in one place. Also acknowledgement to the legendary John Eisen (of metagenomics fame) and his blog-post on exactly this topic.

1) Please email me your request atleast 1 week before your deadline to have sent it.

2) I need to see an updated CV (or resume) so that my facts about you are accurate.

3) Mention from when to when you have worked with me, if you are no longer in my lab. If you are still in my lab, please still mention your start date. You should add a brief summary what you did in that period (or are doing).

4) Please clarify what is the name/title and nature of the position that you are applying for. Specify the role you w in it, if you were hired/recruited/placed. If there is a statement of purpose assocaited with it, please share the gist (summary) of it.

5) Provide all information I will need. For a brief moment, put yourself in my shoes. To be able to send the letter, you need to assist me- i.e.

  • If it’s by email then provide me the address.
  • If it’s as a hard copy then provide me the address of the recepient and whatever title-details are required.
  • Often these letters need to be in certain formats. Please send me this. In short, make my work simpler, so I can help you more effectively.
  • If the agency/organization/university has an online portal, please provide my name and email address ONLY AFTER you have taken my approval.

6) Providing a letter of recommendation is part of my job. It will be a recommendation and an honest assessment.

7) Should you choose to ask for letters from phd-student/technicians/project assistants/postdocs in the lab, please find out from the agency that has requested them what criteria they use for determining the appropriateness of the letter.

8 ) Please do not add me as a referee without asking me first.

Newly minted PhD: Anushree


With excellent work on automated kymography, and more recent work on label-free tracking in DIC microscopy, Anushree Chaphalkar defended her thesis today and richly earned a commendation from the examiners. Congratulations Dr. Chaphalkar!

AmtraK GUI

Anushree’s work was also covered in the local press in 2016. Look forward to more good news.

Visitor from Rome


Garima Verma, a PhD student candidate at the University of Rome, Italy will be visiting us for a few months. Garima is working in the lab of Dr. Grigioni Mauro, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, e Umberto Nanni del Dipartimento di Ingegneria Informatica.

Immunotherapy: the next frontier in rational anti-cancer drugs?


The recent approvals of chimeric antigen receptor t-cell (CART) therapy for commercial use has triggered renewed interest in both the immune-biology and molecular details of how cancers evade the immune system, but also generally the utility of “Synthetic Cell Biology” in “live therapeutics”.  I like to distinguish “live therapeutics” from those that aren’t alive in terms of the complexity. And given the idea of a cell as the smallest unit of life, this is all the more interesting. The “poison”, “burn” and “kill” strategy of the magic bullet (Paul Ehrlich) has a long and effective history. However, for cancer which is a multifactorial non-communicable disease, this paradigm has perhaps been superseded by an approach based on our understanding of the biology, and our ability to manipulate endogeneous functions. While ImmunoTherapeutics (1) are already showing promising results, my own interest is piqued by our ability to convert a molecular understanding of immune cell molecular biology to modify our own cells (2).


Synthetic morphogenesis at EMBL Heidelberg


The use of synthetic biology in engineering biological systems has been rapidly expanding. the conference at EMBL Heidelberg from 17-20 March 2019 on “Synthetic Morphogenesis: From Gene Circuits to Tissue Architecture” highlighted this in the context of understanding growth and developmental morphogenesis. It brought together an unusual combination of researchers ranging from:

  • in vitro reconstitution of cytoskeletal networks
  • giant unilammelar vesicles (GUVs) for encapsulating proteins: towards synthetic cells
  • rebuilding gradients of morphogens by engineering cells
  • organoid models of tissue morphogenesis
  • engineering blastulas and developing embryos predictively modify developmental outcomes

One, many and the nanometer collective: Dynein gliding assays show the way


Our 5 year long study on dynein can be summarized in the “one, many and collective” phrase. We have been able to show that teams of motors on a surface in a gliding assay appear to transport different lengths of microtubules differenty. In challenging experiments that went beyond qualitative, Kunalika Jain from the lab optimized a quantitative gliding assay that allows her to infer the change in 2D directionality of transpoted MTs.

Setup of the dynein gliding assay in simulation and experiment

Dynein Collective Transport: Simulation & Experiment (Jain et al. 2019 Soft Matter)

Given the details available at a single molecule level, we asked whether counter-intuitive inferences could be made about the role of length-dependent transport. Turns out due to the peculiar detachment mechanics and “search and capture”, MTs are indeed transported in a more directional manner when 3 um long filaments encounter approximately 10 motors or more. Why 10, why 3 um,.. read more in our paper by Jain, Khetan and Athale (2019) Soft Matter.

Field microscope


Focussing mechanism for a cellphone microscope

After collecting a small personal museum of microscopes (I don’t have a very big house, so there are limits to it), it was thrilling to complete a project with Yash (BS-MS 2018) and Prof. Rapol in Physics @iiserpune, where we added a 3D printed mechanism for focus adjustment for a portable ball lens microscope. The help we got from Dr. Manu Prakash at Stanford to get us started needs to be mentioned. His energy in spreading portable microscopy in parts of LDCs (less developed country) like India has got a lot of people to get “back to the basics”. In our work we got some help in terms of samples from the lab of Dr. Krishanpal Karmodiya, who works with Plasmodium infected cells for understanding the genomics of malaria. Kudos to the team and looking forward to more developments.

The 3D files of the device we have described in our paper are Open Source and available to download [Github link]. Anybody with access to a 3D printer should in principle be able to make this.


Yash Jawale, Umakant Rapol and Chaitanya A. Athale (2018) Open Source 3D printed focussing mechanism (3DPFM) for cellphone based cellular microscopy. 12-Nov-2018 J. Microsc.

Foldscope ver.2


How to fold a microscope #Foldscope

Assembled and (later corrected)

A weekend coffee well spent assembling the Foldscope

posted under Blog, Outreach | No Comments »

EMBO Workshop on Size and Shape


Chaitanya Athale just returned from an exciting meeting at NCBS Bangalore (ಬೆಂಗಳೂರು) on physical principles of development and morphogenesis. Meeting old friends and making new ones. The most striking images were from Olivier Hamant, ENS Lyon France & Sainsbury Labs UK on the morphogenesis of plants. Neha Khetan and Chaitanya’s poster was put up. Old discussions about bacterial form were re-ignited.



Loads of pain converting simulation output (ppm and TIF) time series into a movie format that a journal likes has led me to start this page. Heres a list of standard ffmpeg (Mac OSX 10.12.3, Terminal) tools used on Terminal with standard tools. You might need to install some of them if you are on some flavour of Linux (or not).

Caveat: I’m using a MAC OSX 10.12.5 (Sierra) with Xcode and multiple gnu developer tools installed using Mac Ports.

1) Convert .avi files to MAC readable (not just VLC) .mp4 files:

ffmpeg.exe -i %d.png -f mp4 -vcodec libx264 -pix_fmt yuv420p test.mp4

The .png file could be an input .avi file (in which case drop %d.png for your file series)

Convert to MOV using QuickTime->Export.

2) Convert pre-existing movie files in Quicktime .mov format to uncompressed AVI or even MAC compatible .mov

>>ffmpeg -i -vcodec rawvideo -y terasaki.avi

I recently needed this to make Supplementary Materials files ImageJ readable and neeed UNCOMPRESSED avi files (all compression codecs seemed to trip up ImageJ). The output looks like this:

ffmpeg version 1.2.1 Copyright (c) 2000-2013 the FFmpeg developers
built on Jun 12 2013 13:46:16 with Apple clang version 4.1 (tags/Apple/clang-421.11.66) (based on LLVM 3.1svn)
configuration: –prefix=/opt/local –enable-swscale –enable-avfilter –enable-libmp3lame –enable-libvorbis –enable-libopus –enable-libtheora –enable-libschroedinger –enable-libopenjpeg –enable-libmodplug –enable-libvpx –enable-libspeex –enable-libass –enable-libbluray –enable-gnutls –enable-libfreetype –mandir=/opt/local/share/man –enable-shared –enable-pthreads –cc=/usr/bin/clang –arch=x86_64 –enable-yasm –enable-gpl –enable-postproc –enable-libx264 –enable-libxvid
libavutil      52. 18.100 / 52. 18.100
libavcodec     54. 92.100 / 54. 92.100
libavformat    54. 63.104 / 54. 63.104
libavdevice    54.  3.103 / 54.  3.103
libavfilter     3. 42.103 /  3. 42.103
libswscale      2.  2.100 /  2.  2.100
libswresample   0. 17.102 /  0. 17.102
libpostproc    52.  2.100 / 52.  2.100
Input #0, mov,mp4,m4a,3gp,3g2,mj2, from ‘’:
major_brand     : qt
minor_version   : 0
compatible_brands: qt
creation_time   : 2017-06-19 06:11:05
encoder         : Mac OS X v? (AVF 1046.9.12, CM 1731.15.207, x86_64)
encoder-eng     : Mac OS X v? (AVF 1046.9.12, CM 1731.15.207, x86_64)
Duration: 00:00:04.67, start: 0.000000, bitrate: 926 kb/s
Stream #0:0(eng): Video: h264 (High) (avc1 / 0×31637661), yuv420p, 370×220 [SAR 1:1 DAR 37:22], 924 kb/s, 6 fps, 6 tbr, 60 tbn, 120 tbc
creation_time   : 2017-06-19 06:11:05
handler_name    : Core Media Data Handler
Output #0, avi, to ‘terasaki-mk0780641002.avi’:
major_brand     : qt
minor_version   : 0
compatible_brands: qt
encoder-eng     : Mac OS X v? (AVF 1046.9.12, CM 1731.15.207, x86_64)
ISFT            : Lavf54.63.104
Stream #0:0(eng): Video: rawvideo (I420 / 0×30323449), yuv420p, 370×220 [SAR 1:1 DAR 37:22], q=2-31, 200 kb/s, 6 tbn, 6 tbc
creation_time   : 2017-06-19 06:11:05
handler_name    : Core Media Data Handler
Stream mapping:
Stream #0:0 -> #0:0 (h264 -> rawvideo)
Press [q] to stop, [?] for help
frame=   28 fps=0.0 q=0.0 Lsize=    3345kB time=00:00:04.66 bitrate=5871.8kbits/s
video:3339kB audio:0kB subtitle:0 global headers:0kB muxing overhead 0.188078%

For the mac OSX compatible movie files (quicktime playable), a small conversion with decocer fix:

>>ffmpeg -i -pix_fmt yuv420p

Falls under the entry Encodingfordumbplayers


1) Stackoverflow:

2) FFMPEG User-List


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