Our group pursues highly interdisciplinary research at the interfaces of chemistry, biology, and materials science. Much of this work exploits programmable molecular interactions between nucleic acids and proteins to direct the assembly of nanometer-scale components and to construct information-processing circuitry inside living cells. These efforts have wide-ranging implications for biotechnology, energy, biosensing, and nanotechnology.
Our research program can be divided between two principal areas.
Our long-term aim is to develop robust platforms for controlling biological systems that enable us to rapidly deploy cells as nano/micromachines that do useful work. Although conventional approaches in synthetic biology have relied on repurposing existing biological parts, we employ a combination of biological insight and computer-aided design to develop completely new components for synthetic biology. Such de-novo-designed parts are engineered from the ground up for optimal performance and facile integration into synthetic gene networks of greater complexity. Typical projects in this area involve the invention of new biological parts, the construction of novel synthetic gene networks, and the development of paper-based diagnostic tests.
As materials reach nanometer-scale dimensions, quantum mechanical effects play important roles in defining their properties. Nanomaterials are thus intriguing materials as a result of their unique electronic, optical, and mechanical properties, and because their dimensions are commensurate with critical length scales in biology. Nevertheless, it remains difficult to synthesize nanomaterials with precisely-controlled sizes and properties, and it is challenging to assemble nanometer-scale components over macroscopic distances. Effective strategies to solve these problems are required to fully exploit the enhanced properties of nanomaterials.
Our group develops separation techniques and chemical functionalization schemes to augment the capabilities of nanomaterials. Furthermore, we program molecular interactions to direct the assembly of nanomaterials into useful architectures. We employ these strategies for applications in nanoelectronics, photonics, energy harvesting, and biosensing. Typical projects involve the synthesis and characterization of new nanomaterials and integration of these novel materials into electronic or sensing devices.