Vice Provost for Research
A Johns Hopkins faculty member since 1994, Denis Wirtz has served as vice provost for research since February 2014. He is the Theophilus Halley Smoot Professor of Engineering Science in the Whiting School of Engineering. Dr. Wirtz has a primary appointment in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in the Whiting School of Engineering and joint appointments in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the Whiting School of Engineering, as well as the Departments of Oncology and Pathology in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
As vice provost for research, Dr. Wirtz focuses on the current and future health of the university’s research enterprise, including institutional research compliance, research development, and cross-divisional research initiatives, such as the Johns Hopkins Catalyst and Discovery Awards, and the President’s Frontier Award. He chairs the Research Oversight Committee (ROC), comprising the divisional research deans, research administration directors and key university personnel, to strategically plan Johns Hopkins’ research infrastructure and investments.
Dr. Wirtz is also responsible for the university research programs administration that oversees policies, procedures and information systems for research grants. He supports important multidisciplinary, collaborative research projects, including the Bloomberg Distinguished Professorships and the Research Development Team.
Dr. Wirtz directs the Johns Hopkins Physical Sciences-Oncology Center, and co-directs the Cancer Nanotechnology Training Center and the Cellular Cancer Biology Imaging Research, all National Cancer Institute-funded entities. He is a co-founder and former associate director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology.
Wirtz studies the biophysical properties of healthy and diseased cells, including interactions between adjacent cells and the role of cellular architecture on nuclear shape and gene expression. Cell biophysics, single molecule manipulation, intracellular particle trafficking, instrument development, tissue engineering, and nanotechnology in biology and medicine are among his research interests. He is developing artificial intelligence solutions to map the complex architecture of tissues and tumors in 3D and at single-cell resolution, and recently cofounded AbMeta Therapeutics, a startup that develops antibodies to block metastatic spread in patients with cancer.
Wirtz was elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for his contributions to cell micromechanics and cell adhesion. AAAS also recognized Wirtz for his development and applications for particle tracking methods to probe the micromechanical properties of living cells in normal conditions and disease state. In addition, Wirtz is a fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering. He is a past recipient of the National Science Foundation’s CAREER Award and the Whitaker Foundation Biomedical Engineering Foundation Award. In 2019, he was elected to the Royal Academy of Medicine of Belgium.
Wirtz has authored more than 250 peer-reviewed articles published in top journals including Science, Nature, Nature Cell Biology, Nature Methods, Nature Reviews Cancer, Nature Materials, Nature Protocols, PNAS, Nature Communications, and Journal of Cell Biology. Ten of his PhD students and postdoctoral fellows are in faculty positions at research universities and more than a dozen have successful careers in industry. His work at Hopkins has been cited >28,000 times and has an h-index of 91. He has also given numerous presentations at universities and research institutions around the world.
Wirtz earned his bachelor’s degree in Engineering Physics from the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium and master’s and doctoral degrees in Chemical Engineering from Stanford University.