Science and Engineering

University of San Diego

Rae M. Robertson-Anderson, Moumita Das, Jennifer L. Ross, Michael J. Rust
San Diego, CA
June 2018


An interdisciplinary team of researchers from the University of San Diego, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, the University of Chicago, and the Rochester Institute of Technology proposes to create a revolutionary class of autonomous materials that can harness energy-driven, biological ratchets to perform user-defined motion and work.  The frontier of materials research is to engineer “intelligent” materials that can sense, decide, and move to create active work.  While biology has already engineered such autonomous systems by using cascading chemical reactions and energy-utilizing molecular components, humans currently have no capability to build similar non-equilibrium, multi-component systems.  The team will take a unique route to addressing this need: the programmed coupling of biopolymer networks derived from the cytoskeleton with the robust timekeeping of circadian oscillator proteins to create biomaterials that can rhythmically alter their mechanical properties.  Guided by predictive mathematical modeling, the team will engineer a suite of tunable materials that can autonomously stiffen and soften through rhythmic crosslinking.  Beyond the practical goal of creating a new platform of smart biomaterials, this work will elucidate the fundamental principles underlying dynamically self-regulating biomolecular networks.  By fusing the information processing and signaling capabilities of circadian clocks with the mechanical tunability and versatility of the cytoskeleton, this revolutionary approach to materials engineering has the potential to create an entirely new class of autonomously active materials that can not only intelligently respond to external signals, but also anticipate future demands.

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