Rebecca Schulman:Toward robotic materials: Self-Assembling Programmable Adaptive Structures with Molecules
While robots at the human size scale are generally composed of structures that are moved by a small set of actuators that shift materials or components with a well-defined shape, other principles for designing moving structures can control movement at the micron scale. For example, cells can move by disassembling parts of their rigid skeleton, or cytoskeleton, and reassembling new components in a different location. The structures that are disassembled and reassembled are often filaments that grow, shrink and form junctions between one another. Networks of rigid filaments serve as a cheap, reusable, movable scaffold that shapes and reshapes the cell.
Could we design synthetic materials to perform tasks of engineering interest at the micron scale? I’ll describe how we are using ideas from DNA nanotechnology to build synthetic filaments and how we can program where and when filaments assemble and disassemble and how they organize. We are able to use quantitative control over microscopic parameters, modeling and automated analysis to build increasingly sophisticated structures that can find, connect and move locations in the environment, form architectures and heal when damaged.