Attila Szabo, Ph.D.

NIH Distinguished Investigator

Theoretical Biophysical Chemistry Section, Laboratory of Chemical Physics


Building 5, Room 138
5 Memorial Drive
Bethesda, MD 20814


Research Topics

Research Goal

The primary goal of our work is to develop the theoretical framework needed to understand the behavior of molecules at the single-molecule level.  The idea is to extract quantitative information from raw experimental data (a photon trajectory or a force extension curve).  This requires a complete understanding of all complex microscopic processes involved and the ability to describe them mathematically. 

Our second goal is to work with leading experimental groups and show them how to correctly analyze and interpret their experiments.  Our work helps them to obtain a detailed microscopic description of the specific biological processes under investigation.  Our work is significant because it opens the way for single-molecule experiments that provide both qualitative and quantitative answers to questions that scientists cannot address using conventional ensemble experiments.​

Current Research

Our research aims to bridge the gap between theory and experiment.  We are developing the theories required to analyze and interpret both single-molecule optical (where the output is a sequence of photons with different colors) and mechanical (where the output is a force-extension curve) experiments.  The goal of our work is to extract both kinetic and thermodynamic information.  In addition, one of our long-term interests is to understand the role of diffusion in determining the rates of chemical reactions, including ligand binding and protein-protein association.

Applying our Research

New and powerful drugs are becoming more difficult to find.  Therefore, scientists need to understand biological processes in an ever-increasing amount of detail.  Our work focuses on the behavior of individual molecules as they carry out their function.  As with most basic research, potential practical applications may not be immediately clear, but one thing is certain:  all past discoveries have been intimately linked with deeper understanding.


  • Ph.D., Harvard University, 1973
  • B.S., McGill University, 1968

Selected Publications

  1. Gopich IV, Szabo A. Theory of the energy transfer efficiency and fluorescence lifetime distribution in single-molecule FRET. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012;109(20):7747-52.

  2. Cossio P, Hummer G, Szabo A. On artifacts in single-molecule force spectroscopy. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015;112(46):14248-53.

  3. Gopich IV, Szabo A. FRET efficiency distributions of multistate single molecules. J Phys Chem B. 2010;114(46):15221-6.

  4. Gopich IV, Szabo A. Influence of diffusion on the kinetics of multisite phosphorylation. Protein Sci. 2016;25(1):244-54.

  5. Berezhkovskii AM, Szabo A. Effect of ligand diffusion on occupancy fluctuations of cell-surface receptors. J Chem Phys. 2013;139(12):121910.

This page was last updated on December 3rd, 2015