News & Events
The molecular computational research of Erik Winfree, Associate Professor of Computer Science, Computation and Neural Systems, and Bioengineering, focuses on understanding how chemical systems can perform information processing and how to program a set of molecules to carry out instructions. This exciting research was recently featured in Discover. [Discover Interview]
Dr. Paul Rothemund, Senior Research Associate in Bioengineering, Computer Science, and Computation and Neural Systems, and colleagues have developed a new technique to orient and position self-assembled DNA shapes and patterns--or "DNA origami"--on surfaces that are compatible with today's semiconductor manufacturing equipment. They "have removed a key barrier to the improvement and advancement of computer chips. They accomplished this through the revolutionary approach of combining the building blocks for life with the building blocks for computing," said Professor Ares Rosakis, Chair of Division of Engineering and Applied Science and Theodore von Kármán Professor of Aeronautics and Mechanical Engineering. [Caltech Press Release]
Robert McEliece, Allen E. Puckett Professor and Professor of Electrical Engineering, has won the IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal for exceptional contributions to the advancement of communications sciences and engineering. In particular, McEliece is being recognized for fundamental contributions to the theory and practice of error-correcting codes and to the design of deep space telecommunication systems.
Scientists Discover Importance of Fire in Global Climate Change. Researchers including John Doyle, Caltech's Braun Professor of Control and Dynamical Systems, Electrical Engineering, and Bioengineering, Emeritus, have determined that fire must be accounted for as an integral part of climate change. Their research shows that intentional deforestation fires alone contribute up to one-fifth of the human-caused increase in emissions of carbon dioxide. According to the article, increasing numbers of natural wildfires are influencing climate as well. [Science Magazine article]
Caltech Researchers Pinpoint the Mechanisms of Self-Control in the Brain. Study of dieters shows how two brain areas interact in people with the willpower to say no to unhealthy foods. "A very basic question in economics, psychology, and even religion, is why some people can exercise self-control but others cannot," notes Antonio Rangel, a Caltech Associate Professor of Economics and the paper's principal investigator. [Caltech Press Release]
Niles Pierce, Associate Professor of Applied and Computational Mathematics and Bioengineering, and the Executive Officer for Bioengineering at Caltech, to give Earnest C. Watson Lecture "In Pursuit of Programmable Molecular Technologies" Our bodies contain amazing molecular machines whose function is encoded within the molecules themselves – RNA and protein sequences programmed by evolution to synthesize molecules, haul cargo within our cells, or regulate our development and repair. These remarkable biological proofs-of-principle inspire the emerging field of molecular programming and suggest the possibility of new technologies in which the function of therapeutic drugs and scientific instruments can be programmed at the molecular level. The lecture takes place May 20 at 8:00 p.m. in Beckman Auditorium.
Researchers led by Pietro Perona, the Allen E. Puckett Professor of Electrical Engineering, and David J. Anderson, the Roger W. Sperry Professor of Biology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, have trained computers to automatically analyze aggression and courtship in fruit flies, opening the way for researchers to perform large-scale, high-throughput screens for genes that control these innate behaviors. The program allows computers to examine half an hour of video footage of pairs of interacting flies in what is almost real time; characterizing the behavior of a new line of flies "by hand" might take a biologist more than 100 hours. "This is a coming-of-age moment in this field," says Perona. "By choosing among existing machine vision techniques, we were able to put together a system that is much more capable than anything that had been demonstrated before." This work is detailed in the April issue of Nature Methods. [Caltech Press Release]
Over the past few decades, the transistors in computer chips have become progressively smaller and faster, allowing upwards of a billion individual transistors to be packed into a single circuit, thus shrinking the size of electronic devices. But these circuits have an intractable design flaw: if just a single transistor fails, the entire circuit also fails. One novel way around the problem is a so-called self-healing circuit. Such circuits are "inspired by biological systems that constantly heal themselves in the presence of random and intentional failures," says Caltech professor Ali Hajimiri.
"Flowers, dogs, and just about all biological objects are created from the bottom up," says Erik Winfree, associate professor of computer science, computation and neural systems, and bioengineering at Caltech. Along with his coworkers, Winfree is seeking to integrate bottom-up construction approaches with molecular fabrication processes to construct objects from parts that are just a few billionths of a meter in size that essentially assemble themselves. In a recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Winfree and his colleagues describe the development of an information-containing DNA "seed" that can direct the self-assembled bottom-up growth of tiles of DNA in a precisely controlled fashion. In some ways, the process is similar to how the fertilized seeds of plants or animals contain information that directs the growth and development of those organisms. [Caltech Press Release]