Colloquia - Erik Winfree/California Institute of Technology, "Life at the interface of computer science and chemistry", ACES 6.304

Contact Name: 
Jenna Whitney
Feb 2, 2012 3:30pm - 4:30pm

There is a sign-up schedule for this event that can be found at

Type of Talk: Colloquia

nSpeaker/Affiliation: Erik Winfree/California Institute of Technology

Talk Audience: UTCS Faculty, Graduate Students, Undergraduate Students an

d Outside Interested Parties

Date/Time: Thursday, February 2, 2012,
3:30 p.m.

Location: ACES 6.304

Host: Rob Elber

Talk Title:

"Life at the interface of computer science and chemistry"

Talk Abstrac

At its deepest level, life relies on information-based chemistry: DNA
encodes programs for orchestrating chemical processes to accomplish tasks

essential to living organisms, such as constructing molecular structures a

nd making decisions based on molecular sensors. To better understand life

, and more practically to develop programmable molecular technologies, a r

ich theory and practice for information-based chemistry is needed. Buildin

g on DNA nanotechnology and cell-free synthetic biology, we have been expl

oring how designable molecular mechanisms such as folding, self-assembly,
catalysis, and motors can serve as the basis for molecular "programming l

anguages". To do so requires integrating nucleic acid biophysics, computa

tional simulations, abstract models of molecular computation, computation

al complexity theory, the development of compilers that transform high-lev

el specifications into synthesizable nucleic acid sequences, and laborator

y demonstrations of DNA systems performing sophisticated tasks at the molec

ular level. While falling far short of the sophistication of life and stil

l unproven for technological applications, these investigations are helpin

g to develop a new way of thinking about information-based chemical systems


Speaker Bio:
Dr. Erik Winfree is a Professor of Computer Science a

nd Computation & Neural Systems and Bioengineering at California Institute

of Technology, where he received his Ph.D. in Computation & Neural Systems
in 1998. Since that time he has also held positions as a Visiting Scienti

st at MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and as a Lewis Thomas Postdo

ctoral Fellow in the Princeton Department of Molecular Biology. His resear

ch group is currently studying DNA computation, DNA nanotechnology, and M

olecular Programming algorithmic self-assembly‚ in vitro biochemical circ

uits and systems enzyme-free DNA strand displacement circuits, DNA-based m

olecular robotics molecular self-replicating systems and evolution multistr

anded DNA and RNA interaction kinetics nucleic acid system specification an

d sequence design fault-tolerant molecular computing. He is the recipient

of several prestigious awards including the Feynman Prize for Nanotechnolog

y (2006), NSF CAREER Award (2001), ONR Young Investigator (2001), McArth

ur Fellow (2000), and Tulip Prize in DNA Computing (2000). He is the aut

hor of over 50 refereed publications and co-editor of two books.