The Datta lab will explore how microbial communities organize and operate in complex three-dimensional habitats. To invade the human body, infectious bacteria must navigate through the complex architecture of human tissue, cooperate or compete with host cells and other microbes, locate nutrients, and evade antibiotics. Yet most laboratory studies of bacterial physiology are performed using single species in a liquid medium or on a flat plate, where microbes act differently than they would in a more natural setting. To address this conundrum, our lab has engineered a “porous Petri dish” in which we can monitor the behavior of mixtures of microbes as they move through and inhabit a densely packed matrix of transparent gel-like particles. Now, using a combination of methods in materials chemistry, microbial biophysics, biological imaging, and engineering, we will determine how the properties of their environment and the composition of the bacterial community affect microbes’ overall growth, their ability to establish infections, and their susceptibility to antibiotics and other stressors—work that could lead to new therapies for combating potentially life-threatening infections.