Robert B. Silver

Professor, Biology

Research and Teaching Interests

In my research, I seek to understand complex processes and mechanisms from the perspective of fundamental principles in biology, the physical sciences, and engineering. In my teaching, I seek to convey to students the concepts, facts, and perspectives that I have learned, and I very much enjoy the discourse and intellectual engagement with students. I find this engagement energizing, and wish to guide students as far as they wish to travel in their studies.

I seek to understand how cells make decisions. The research focus of my laboratory is how cells decide to divide, how macrophages marshal their myriad metabolic components when they encounter and neutralize danger, secretion of neurotransmitters without membrane fusion (Porocytosis), and the mechanisms of parthenogenetic activation of eggs versus fertilization. We also study the biology of energetic materials.

The methods we use in my laboratory include:

  • Analytical and quantitative multi-spectral light microscopy and correlative electron microscopy;
  • Protein, metabolic and physical biochemistry;
  • Metabolic and genetic polymorphisms among species;
  • Data-driven (agent-based) modeling of biological systems.

Current Collaborative Efforts

  • Plant cell responses to threats (with Dr. Ramesh Raina, SU);
  • Structure and growth of shells in long-lived contemporary and fossil bivalves (with Dr. Linda Ivany, SU);
  • Cell-level heterogeneity and gene-expression instability in tumors (with Dr. Y. Lin, USDA);
  • We also conduct forensic studies, as appropriate.


  • Post-Doctoral Scientist, University of California, Berkeley (1977-1980)
  • Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley (1977)

Courses (co-listed in Biology and Forensics)

NOTE:  The following courses are intended for graduate and upper-level undergraduate students.

  • Light Microscopy (Fall semester of each academic year)
  • How Science is Used to Solve Cold Cases (Spring semester of odd-numbered academic years)
  • The Science of Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (Spring semester of even-numbered academic years)