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Materials Science Research Lecture

Wednesday, March 6, 2019
4:00pm to 5:00pm
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Spalding Laboratory 106 (Hartley Memorial Seminar Room)
Smart Materials from Programmable Polymers
Grigory Tikhomirov, Senior Postdoctoral Scholar in Biology & Biological Engineering, Caltech,

Abstract: Nature has evolved to self-assemble complex materials in a sustainable bottom-up way. From bacteria to humans, biological materials are constructed using a common set of atomically precise nanoscale building blocks such as proteins that give rise to complex organism-level functions such as navigation, adaptation, and healing. In contrast, most human-made materials and devices are composed of building blocks with much less precision, rely on unsustainable top-down manufacturing, and exhibit much simpler properties. Drawbacks aside, these devices are highly useful and surpass in some performance aspects their biological counterparts (e.g., computers vs the human brain). This success is largely due to a systematic and modular engineering approach where simple but well understood components such as transistors are put together in a programmable way. Is it possible to combine the strengths of biomolecular self-assembly approaches and systematic engineering principles to fabricate sustainable complex materials and devices? In this talk I propose a solution that starts with developing nanoscale building blocks with programmable structure and behavior built with DNA and then transfers these principles to a new polymer that will enable sustainable assembly of smarter materials.

First, I will present experimental progress towards the design and synthesis of a set of nanoscale building blocks with increasing complexity and functions such as information processing and reconfiguration in response to external signals based on DNA [1-4]. Then, I will describe a concept for a new technology that utilizes a novel more practical and versatile polymer in place of DNA. In this technology, templates self-assembled from this polymer are used to synthesize nanoscale building blocks of any desired shape and size from any desired substance. In turn, these building blocks can self-assemble into designer devices, such as photonic circuits, lithium battery electrodes, and cancer therapeutics. This novel approach integrating the advantages of natural bottom-up assembly and engineered top-down programming may lead to a host of new intelligent materials and devices for technology and medicine.

[1] G. Tikhomirov, S. Hoogland, P. Lee, A. Fisher, S.O. Kelley, E.H. Sargent "DNA-Based Programming of Quantum Dot Valency, Self-Assembly, and Luminescence" Nature Nanotechnology (2011) 6, 485-490

[2] G. Tikhomirov, P. Petersen, L. Qian "Fractal assembly of micrometre-scale DNA origami arrays with arbitrary patterns" Nature (2017) 552, 67-71

[3] G. Tikhomirov, P. Petersen, L. Qian "Programmable disorder in random DNA tilings" Nature Nanotechnology (2017) 12, 251-259

[4] P. Petersen, G. Tikhomirov, L. Qian. "Information-based autonomous reconfiguration in systems of interacting DNA nanostructures" Nature Communications (2018) 9, 5362

For more information, please contact Jennifer Blankenship by phone at 626-395-8124 or by email at