Science and Engineering

Columbia University

Ken Shepard
New York, NY
$1,000,000
June 2013

Silicon integrated circuits based on complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor technology form the basis for complex electronic systems with billions of transistors. Composed of dielectrics, semiconductors, and metals, these systems are used extensively for communication and computation applications and represent the most complex engineered systems ever created. Evolution has also resulted in complex biological systems. The burgeoning field of synthetic biology hopes to achieve enough understanding of living systems to engineer new functions and systems not found in nature. In particular, living systems offer electronic devices in the form of lipid bilayer membranes, which act as capacitors, storing charge as ionic gradients across these membranes. Proteins that permeate these membranes (trans membrane proteins) control ion transport. By controlling this ion flow, these proteins can harvest energy from the environment (and store this energy as electrochemical potentials); and can sense the environment (other molecules, temperature, pH, voltage) and signal this by opening or closing the channel. We will combine these domains into hybrid engineered integrated systems, exploiting engineered biological components for energetics and sensing with the signal processing and communications provided by silicon-based systems.

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