This project is awarded under the Nanoelectronics for 2020 and Beyond competition, with support by multiple Directorates and Divisions at the National Science Foundation as well as by the Nanoelectronics Research Initiative of the Semiconductor Research Corporation. In the last decade, the scaling of electronics has slowed due to limitations in underlying technologies as nanoscale dimensions are approached, including leakage, power dissipation, lithography, interconnect, and noise. Thus, fundamentally new paradigms for efficient and high-performance computation are needed to enable important applications such as studying complex biological systems. The research objective of this proposal is to breakthrough the scaling limits of conventional electronics with a hybrid analog-digital computational platform that integrates heterogeneous biological and nanoelectronic systems. The hypothesis that will be explored is that heterogeneous integration of electronic computation and biological computation is desirable since the former contributes precision, programmability, and speed while the latter yields highly parallel and efficient processing. These systems will be implemented in bio-inspired subthreshold electronics and living cells using synthetic biology; they shall be integrated with each other via microfluidics and biological nanomaterials.
This research has the potential to have broad impacts on a wide range of fields including computational science, synthetic biology, electrical engineering, nanomaterials research, infectious diseases, and biomedical science. Our experiments with novel forms of biological processing will enhance the breadth of computational platforms and provide insights into how biology achieves robust and efficient computation. Our biological circuits will advance the field of synthetic biology via new devices and architectures for engineering biological systems. By mimicking biological networks with subthreshold electronics, we can discover new high-performance electrical circuit designs. Our research into biologically synthesized and organized nanowires will inform our understanding of how biological systems are self-organized and shall enable new nanoelectronics, sustainable and environmentally friendly nanomaterial synthesis, and self-healing structures in the future. We will validate our computational platform on currently intractable problems in biomedical research, including modeling, simulating, and understanding how emergent properties, such as antibiotic resistance in bacteria and yeast, arise from large-scale networks. This computational platform will enable the unprecedented modeling of large-scale biological systems for hypothesis-driven biomedical research.
This project also aims to advance education and outreach efforts in the highly interdisciplinary disciplines involved in this research. This project shall create a new course, "Molecular Circuits Engineering", to train undergraduates and graduates in both computational and experimental techniques for molecular computation. The team will also supervise students in the International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) competition to provide hands-on experimental training. A key priority is to work with MIT and the MIT Center for Integrative Synthetic Biology to actively recruit under-represented minorities and women into computational, synthetic biology, and bio-inspired electronics research via the Saturday Engineering Enrichment and Discovery Academy, the MIT Summer Research Program, and the Society of Women Engineers.