Engineering from theory to application

Genes tell our body how to make all the proteins necessary for life and also serve as instructions for proteins to regulate activity within our bodies. Therefore, with technology that has made the mapping of genes possible, scientists have begun to understand which genes are connected to specific proteins and functions. This understanding has proven insightful in determining what goes wrong when certain genes are mutated or missing. Dr. Kevin Dorfman, of the University of Minnesota, works at the interface between engineering, physics, and biology to improve human health using biotechnology. Beginning his academic career at MIT, Dr. Dorfman finished his chemical engineering degree in less than three years. Upon earning his degree, Dr. Dorfman has continued to rigorously approach his research questions with innovation and enthusiasm.

Although he has a reputation in the scientific community for the physics of new genome mapping technologies, Dr. Dorfman's research is multifaceted as he works in theory, simulation, and application on a variety of different projects. On the experimental side, he likes to make microfluidic and nanofluidic devices, using fluorescence microscopy as his major tool to understand how DNA and cells respond inside these devices. On the theory and stimulation side, he uses a wide range of tools for both equilibrium and nonequilibrium systems. Dr. Dorfman remains passionate due to the many unsolved problems that may have direct impacts on technology in the future. Dr. Dorfman's work may one day have a major impact on examining complicated genomes, for example in food or cancer, that are not easily understood by sequencing. Other projects are likely to help detect pathogens, and lead to new materials for a wide range of applications.

Current research includes:

  • Genome Mapping Technology: Dr. Dorfman uses nanochannels for mapping DNA. This method is a complement to DNA sequencing. It allows researchers to fill in gaps in sequence assembly and identify large structural variations, such as those that arise in cancer. Dr. Dorfman expects genome mapping to have applications in the future that improve health by affecting specific diseases such as cancer and to advance technologies like those used in agriculture.

  • Protein Detectors: Dr. Dorfman is working with collaborator Dr. Dan Frisbie, to make sensors for detecting proteins. They hope to detect the proteins within fluids using low voltage devices that can be used in the field or even in the home. This work involves taking advantage of new transistor technologies that use organic molecules, rather than traditional semiconductors, and has applications for innovative future technologies.

  • Gene Delivery Devices: The gene delivery devices greatly simplify and accelerate existing methods for transforming cells. Dr. Dorfman, along with his collaborator Dr. Theresa Reineke, hopes that they can be used in the future to handle delicate primary cells.

  • Block Polymer Problems: Dr. Dorfman's investigations along with his collaborator Dr. Frank Bates could lead to new materials for a wide range of applications, such as advanced membrane technologies, since the unique properties of block polymers allow for tailoring of the microstructure of materials at very small length scales.


Dr. Dorfman received his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from MIT in 2002, working with Howard Brenner. From 2002-2005, he was an HFSP postdoctoral fellow with Jean-Louis Viovy at Institut Curie in Paris, France. He has been on the faculty at the University of Minnesota since 2006, where his research focuses on microfluidics, biophysics, and polymer physics. His work has been recognized by a number of awards, most notably a Packard Fellowship and the Colburn Award of the AIChE.

Dr. Dorfman feels very strongly about the university's dual mission of education and research, in particular the way that research informs education and vice versa. Therefore, the main goal of his research program is the training of graduate students and postdocs. The particular research topics that he works on evolve based on the interests of the students and his conversations with colleagues. Perhaps atypically, Dr. Dorfman does not devote his study to a grand problem but rather hopes to foster his own interests and those of his students by exploring many different problems. Therefore, his larger interests, like gene mapping, came out of exploring problems with students on a smaller scale which then developed into long-term studies.

In his free time, Dr. Dorfman enjoys spending time with his growing family. When not playing with his two-year-old son are preparing for the arrival of his second child, he enjoys swimming and traveling to visit his wife's family in Spain.



Allan P. Colburn Award of the AIChE, 2012

Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award, 2010

DARPA Young Faculty Award, 2009

Packard Fellowship in Science and Engineering, 2007

NSF CAREER Award, 2007


U.S. Patent No. 62/037,352: "Electrolyte gated transistors for electronic biosensing."

C. Daniel Frisbie, Scott P. White, Kevin D. Dorfman.

European Patent Publication No. 1802395: "Microfluidic device using a coaxial electric field."

Jean-Louis Viovy, Max Chabert, Kevin D. Dorfman.