William H. Guilford, Ph.D.

Principle Investigator

Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering in the School of Medicine. I currently serve as the Undergraduate Program Director for Biomedical Engineering at UVa, and the Director of our Beckman Scholars Program.

Short bio

I was born in Wauseon, Ohio and raised on a small farm. I attended Wauseon High School where I was mentored by two extraordinary teachers - Mr. Curt Cooley and Mr. Jim Spieles. They were amazingly encouraging and supportive, and steered me toward a NSF-funded program that placed me in the lab of Dr. Bob Crissman who helped forge my interest in cardiovascular physiology.

I attended Saint Francis College (now a University) in Fort Wayne Indiana where I double-majored in Biology and Chemistry. I spent much of my final year working at Argonne National Laboratory under the direction of Dave Grdina studying radioprotectors.

I then moved to Tucson, Arizona to study Physiology at the University of Arizona. I had the pleasure of working with renown physiology instructor Robert W. Gore (Emeritus) studying the mechanics of ateriole-interstitium interactions and designing a new force measuring device. I also had the extraordinary honor of working briefly with Arthur T. Winfree, MacArthur Fellow, now deceased. I graduated from U of A in 1993.

In 1994 I began my postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Vermont with Dr. David M. Warshaw. There I studied the mechanics of smooth and skeletal muscle myosins using the laser trap transducer.

In 1997 I began my first faculty appointment at the University of Virginia in the School of Medicine, Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Research interests

My goal is to understand the molecular mechanisms by which cells move, with particular emphasis on muscle contraction. My lab examines the mechanics of these processes at the level of individual molecules, thus the laser trap as an important experimental tool. Our combination of the laser trap with other biochemical and imaging techniques allows us to study the force and motion generated by molecular motors, as well as the strength of single intermolecular bonds between molecular motors, their cytoskeletal filaments, and their regulatory proteins. We thus have a unique vantage on molecular function. We are particularly excited about our first of their kind studies on the mechanics of individual molecular motors driving cell gliding. We have developed novel experimental platforms that combine the laser trap with unicellular organisms that propel themselves by "gliding." These exciting techniques allow us to study the biomechanics and coordination of molecular motors inside the living cell, non-invasively, from outside the cell.


I am a proponent of undergraduate involvement in research, and in hands-on, apprenticeship-style approaches to education. My current teaching responsibilities include Introduction to Engineering, and BME Design and Discovery. Both are taught with an intensively hands-on design-build philosophy. See more on our Education page .