• Independent Theory Fellow, Department of Systems Biology, Harvard Medical School, 2019–present
  • Instructor in Applied Mathematics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2016–2019
  • EPSRC Doctoral Prize Fellowship, University of Manchester, 2015–2016
  • PhD Applied Mathematics, University of Manchester, 2011–2015
  • MMath Mathematics, University of Manchester, 2007–2011

Full CV here.

Research Interests

  • Biophysics
  • Soft Matter
  • Systems Biology


  • IMA Catherine Richards Prize (London, 2017)
  • SET for Britain Gold Award for the Mathematical Sciences and de Montfort Medal (London, 2016)
  • IOP Combustion Physics Group Prize (Loughborough, 2015)
  • ERCOFTAC Osborne Reynolds Research Student Award (Manchester, 2015)
  • EPSRC Doctoral Prize Fellowship (University of Manchester, 2015)
  • EPSRC Doctoral Training Award (University of Manchester, 2011)

Current/Previous Projects and Publications

Bacterial quorum sensing in complex environments:

Bacteria use intercellular signaling, or quorum sensing (QS), to share information and respond collectively to aspects of their surroundings. The autoinducers that carry this information are exposed to the external environment; consequently, they are affected by factors such as removal through fluid flow, a ubiquitous feature of bacterial habitats ranging from the gut and lungs to lakes and oceans. To understand how QS genetic architectures in cells promote appropriate population-level phenotypes throughout the bacterial life cycle requires knowledge of how these architectures determine the QS response in realistic spatiotemporally varying flow conditions. In this project, we develop and apply a general theory that identifies and quantifies the conditions required for QS activation in fluid flow by systematically linking cell- and population-level genetic and physical processes. Our theory is readily extendable, and provides a framework for assessing the functional roles of diverse QS network architectures in realistic flow conditions. Joint work with Mohit Dalwadi.

  • Emergent robustness of bacterial quorum sensing in fluid flow
    MP Dalwadi*, P Pearce*. PNAS 118.10 (2021): e2022312118. (DOI)

Physical determinants of bacterial biofilm architectures:

In many situations bacteria aggregate to form biofilms: dense, surface-associated, three-dimensional structures populated by cells embedded in matrix. Biofilm architectures are sculpted by mechanical processes including cell growth, cell-cell interactions and external forces. In this project, using single-cell live imaging in combination with simulations, we characterize the cell-cell interactions that generate Vibrio cholerae biofilm morphologies. Fluid shear is shown to affect biofilm shape through the growth rate and orientation of cells, despite spatial differences in shear stress being balanced by cell-cell adhesion. Our results demonstrate the importance of cell dynamics mediated by adhesion proteins and matrix generation in determining the global architecture of biofilm structures. In collaboration with the groups of Jörn Dunkel and Knut Drescher.

  • Flow-induced symmetry breaking in growing bacterial biofilms
    P Pearce, B Song, DJ Skinner, R Mok, R Hartmann, PK Singh, H Jeckel, K Drescher and J Dunkel. Physical Review Letters 123.25 (2019): 258101. (DOI, PDF)
  • Emergence of three-dimensional order and structure in growing biofilms
    R Hartmann, PK Singh*, P Pearce*, R Mok*, B Song, F Diaz-Pascual, J Dunkel and K Drescher. Nature Physics 15.3 (2019): 251-256. (DOI, PDF)
    [see also Nature Microbiology Community blog]

Learning dynamical information from static protein and sequencing data:

Protein folding and microbial evolution belong to the large class of physical, chemical and biological processes that can be described as diffusive exploration of an effective high-dimensional energy landscape. Recent advances in electronic and optical data acquisition technologies have been accompanied by substantial progress in the development of mathematical dimensionality reduction techniques for complex systems. By contrast, the reliable reconstruction of relevant dynamical information from static ensemble data, as provided by modern sequencing protocols and similar instantaneous sampling methods, still poses major challenges. In this project, we introduce a generic computational framework to reconstruct low-dimensional dynamical transition networks from high-dimensional static samples. We demonstrate the broad applicability of the underlying concepts by successfully predicting protein folding transitions and HIV evolution pathways. In collaboration with the groups of Jörn Dunkel and Halim Kusumaatmaja.

  • Learning dynamical information from static protein and sequencing data
    P Pearce, F Woodhouse, A Forrow, A Kelly, H Kusumaatmaja and J Dunkel. Nature Communications 10 (2019): 5368. (DOIPDF)
    [my talk on this work at the European Conference on Computational Biology (2019) in Basel is available on YouTube, starting at around 1:45]

Blood flow and solute transport in the placenta:

Throughout the mammalian species, solute exchange takes place in complex microvascular networks. In recent years, multi-scale models have proved successful in investigating the structure-function relationship of such networks in specific contexts. However, general methods for incorporating experimental data on complex, heterogeneous capillary networks into whole-organ multi-scale models remain under-developed. In this project we introduce a theoretical framework, tested against image-based computations, for quantifying the transport capacity of feto-placental capillary networks using experimental data. We find that solute transfer can be described using a near-universal physical scaling based on two non-dimensional parameters (the diffusive capacity and a Damköhler number), which can be extracted from microscopy images via standard computational and image-analysis tools. In collaboration with Oliver Jensen, Igor Chernyavsky and others.

  • Physical and geometric determinants of transport in feto-placental microvascular networks
    A Erlich*, P Pearce*, R Plitman Mayo, OE Jensen and IL Chernyavsky. Science Advances 5.4 (2019): eaav6326 (DOI, PDF)
    [featured in University of Manchester In Abstract]
  • Image-based modeling of blood flow and oxygen transfer in feto-placental capillaries
    P Pearce, P Brownbill, J Janacek, M Jirkovska, L Kubinova, IL Chernyavsky and OE Jensen. PLoS ONE 11.10 (2016): e0165369 (DOI, PDF)

Propagation and stability of flames in inhomogeneous mixtures:

In many practical situations involving a propagating flame, inhomogeneities are present in the mixture through which the flame propagates. These inhomogeneities can be caused by fluctuations or stratifications in the temperature, the composition or the flow field. In this project the effect of inhomogeneities on laminar flames is modelled, including premixed flames and triple flames, through the numerical and asymptotic solution of the coupled equations for temperature, mass fractions and flow. In collaboration with Joel Daou.

  • Taylor dispersion in premixed combustion: Questions from turbulent combustion answered for laminar flames
    J Daou, P Pearce and F Al-Malki. Physical Review Fluids 3 (2018): 023201 (DOI)
  • Initiation and evolution of triple flames subject to thermal expansion and gravity
    P Pearce and J Daou. Proceedings of the Combustion Institute 36.1 (2017): 1431-1437 (DOI)
  • Flame balls in non-uniform mixtures: existence and finite activation energy effects
    R Daou, P Pearce and J Daou. Combustion Theory and Modelling 20.1 (2016): 1-33 (DOI)
  • Taylor dispersion and thermal expansion effects on flame propagation in a narrow channel
    P Pearce and J Daou. Journal of Fluid Mechanics 754 (2014): 161-183 (DOI)
  • Rayleigh-Bénard instability generated by a diffusion flame
    P Pearce and J Daou. Journal of Fluid Mechanics 736 (2013): 464-494 (DOI)
  • The effect of gravity and thermal expansion on the propagation of a triple flame in a horizontal channel
    P Pearce and J Daou. Combustion and Flame 160.12 (2013): 2800-2809 (DOI)

Other Articles

  • Maths in Medicine: How to survive a science fair
    P Pearce and T Shearer. Mathematics Today 52 (3), 135-139 (author's version; published version can be found here). Winner of the IMA Catherine Richards prize for best article in Mathematics Today in 2016
  • Modelling stalk-sheath interactions in grasses
    L Band, D Cook, M Dalwadi, J Fozard, OE Jensen, J King, F Nouri, P Pearce, S Pearce, C Spalding and H Williams. Mathematics in the Plant Sciences Study Group Report (2016)
  • Propagation and stability of flames in inhomogeneous mixtures
    P Pearce. PhD Thesis, University of Manchester, (2015)
  • Understanding patterns of haemorrhage in the eye
    R Bonshek, S Cowley, OE Jensen, P Pearce, A Ravi, P Stewart, R Whittaker, and M Zouache. NC3Rs Mathematics in Medicine Study Group Report (2014)