This project will explore the future of molecular programming area via a Special Session at the 17th International Conference on DNA Computing & Molecular Programming (DNA17). The conference will take at California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA on September 19, 2011. The conference website is The goals of the event are to elucidate future directions and specific challenges for the field of DNA computation and molecular programming, and to facilitate discussion on how these visions are to be met. The DNA17 conference is the flagship conference in this emerging area.

A report will be provided to NSF after the event, consisting of a short statement from each invited panelist and a summary of each panel discussion by the organizers. The panel discussions will provide a timely assessment of the field and the challenges and opportunities for the future, which will be useful to conference attendees and other researchers working in this area as they formulate their next research directions.

Requested funds will primarily go to support registration and travel expenses for the invited panelists, as well as incidental costs associated with the impromptu parallel sessions.

Project Report

The annual International Conference on DNA Computing and Molecular Programming is the premier forum where scientists with diverse backgrounds come together with the common purpose of advancing the engineering and science of biology and chemistry from the point of view of computer science, physics, and mathematics. Continuing this tradition, the 17th International Conference on DNA Computing and Molecular Programming (DNA17), under the auspices of the International Society for Nanoscale Science, Computation and Engineering (ISNSCE), focused on the most recent experimental and theoretical results that promise the greatest impact. It was held in September, 2011, at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Research in DNA computing and molecular programming draws together mathematics, computer science, physics, chemistry, biology, and nanotechnology to address the analysis, design, and synthesis of information-based molecular systems. The conference showcases research in all areas that relate to biomolecular computing using DNA and/or other molecules, including but not restricted to: (1) algorithms and models of computation for biomolecular systems; (2) control of molecular folding and self-assembly to construct nanostructures; (3) demonstration of switches, gates, devices, and circuits; (4) molecular motors and molecular robotics; (5) computational processes in vitro and in vivo; (6) studies of fault-tolerance and error correction; (7) synthetic biology and in vitro evolution; (8) software tools for analysis, simulation, and design; (9) applications in engineering, physics, chemistry, biology, and medicine. There is a unique blend of theory and practice at DNA conferences, from a range of academic disciplines; the conference explicitly encourages theory orientated papers, experimentally oriented papers, and mixes of both. Interdisciplinarity is engrained into the goals of the conference. The annual international conference has acted as a unifying voice giving coherency and direction, while keeping a strong emphasis on interdisciplinary work. The conference series began in 1995 after the landmark work by Leonard Adleman, who solved an instance of the Hamiltonian path problem using DNA molecules, opening the door to a new field. Since then, theory and practice have progressed rapidly with the DNA conference series staying as the field’s premier forum where progress and new breakthroughs are reported. The conference has grown in size, from a small workshop with 6 oral presentations at Princeton in 1995, to a much larger international conference with over 30 oral presentations and 190 registered participants at DNA17 in 2011. A steady stream of papers in the field appear in prestigious journals such as Nature and Science, the authors of which regularly attend DNA conferences to present their work in a preliminary form. This grant helped support two special events at DNA17: a series of panel discussions about the challenges and opportunities in our field, and self-organized ``impromptu sessions'' modeled after the Science Foo Camp. The impromptu sessions were popular and helpful events, leading to much interaction between students and senior researchers, as well as interaction between researchers from different fields, much more technical and in-depth interaction than traditional 20-minute conference talks. During the conference, volunteers signed up to organize 45-minute discussions or tutorials to be held on the last day of the conference. A total of 9 sessions were set up, covering topics ranging from single-molecule microscopy for molecular robots, to free-form discussion of the interaction between theory and experiment, to a software tutorial for a molecular computing system programming language and simulator. The session volunteers included graduate students, postdocs and faculty members. The impromptu sessions turned out to be a remarkably successful way to get conference attendees to interact more closely than is usually seen at scientific conferences. The impromptu sessions concept was introduced for the first time at DNA17, and was deemed to be sufficiently successful that it was repeated at DNA18, held in August, 2012 at Aarhus University in Denmark. The four pre-organized panel discussions had four senior scientists on each, with the following topics, each leading to lively discussion and animated debate. The four panel topics were:``Visions for DNA Computing and Molecular Programming'' (Luca Cardelli, Eric Klavins, Nadrian Seeman, and Erik Winfree), ``Hard Problems in DNA Computing and Molecular Programming'' (Anne Condon, Jack Lutz, John Reif, and Damien Woods), ``Applications of DNA Computing and Molecular Programming'' (Andy Ellington, Yamuna Krishnan, Niles Pierce, Hao Yan), and ``Interfaces to DNA Computing and Molecular Programming'' (Deborah Fygenson, Kurt Gothelf, Christina Smolke, Paul Rothemund). Each of the sixteen panelists wrote a one-page statement prior to the event, which was made available to all conference attendees -- and to anyone else in the general public -- using a wiki:

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California Institute of Technology
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