CDL - Molecular Programming: Chemistry as a New Information Technology

CISE Distinguished Lecture - Erik Winfree - Cal Tech - February 10th - 2pm - Room 1235

February 10, 2016 2:00 PM  to 
February 10, 2016 3:00 PM
NSF Room 1235


Information processing is at the core of biological organisms and is essential to their extraordinary ability to fabricate and operate intricate machinery from the molecular scale up to the macroscopic scale.  Inspired by this natural technology, research in synthetic biology and molecular programming aims to create information-based chemical systems capable of carrying out human-defined molecular programs that input, output, and manipulate molecules and molecular structures.  For chemistry to become the next information technology substrate, we must (1) develop systematic molecular architectures capable of carrying out a wide variety of molecular-scale tasks, from self-assembly to signal processing; (2) establish rigorous mathematical foundations and build effective software tools for designing, simulating, and analyzing complex molecular circuits and systems; (3) explore the theoretical foundations of molecular computing systems, their capabilities, and their limitations; and (4) demonstrate how molecular programming can be used to create previously-unthinkable applications in biology, chemistry, physics, and materials science.  Using nucleic acid nanotechnology as a model system, I will discuss how computer-aided design enables the synthesis of complex self-assembled molecular structures; how programming languages and compilers are being developed for biochemical reaction circuitry; and how theory is illuminating the remarkable potential of massively parallel systems of unreliable, stochastic, and slow molecular machines.  I will conclude with a survey of applications and speculations about the future.

Erik Winfree is Professor of Computer Science, Computation & Neural Systems and Bioengineering at Caltech. He is the founder of two NSF "Expeditions in Computing", the Molecular Programming Project (2008-2013) and Molecular Programming Architectures, Abstractions, Algorithms, and Applications (2013-2018).  Winfree, inducted as a Fellow of the AAAS in 2015, is the recipient of the Feynman Prize for Nanotechnology (2006), the NSF PECASE/CAREER Award (2001), the ONR Young Investigators Award (2001), a MacArthur Fellowship (2000), the Tulip prize in DNA Computing (2000), and MIT Technology Review's first TR100 list of "top young innovators” award (1999). Prior to joining the faculty at Caltech in 1999, Winfree was a Lewis Thomas Postdoctoral Fellow in Molecular Biology at Princeton, and a Visiting Scientist at the MIT AI Lab. Winfree received a B.S. in Mathematics and Computer Science from the University of Chicago in 1991, and a Ph.D. in Computation & Neural Systems from Caltech in 1998.


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Lynne E. Parker, (703) 292-8930, email:

NSF Related Organizations
Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering

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