Living Biotic-abiotic Materials with Temporally Programmable Actuation

Project Personnel

Rae Robertson-Anderson

Principal Investigator

University of San Diego


Michael Rust

University of Chicago


Moumita Das

Rochester Institute of Technology


Jennifer Ross

Syracuse University


Megan Valentine

University of California, Santa Barbara


Funding Divisions

Division of Materials Research (DMR), Office of Multidisciplinary Activities (OMA)

A team of five physicists, biologists, and engineers aims to design and create a new class of self-directed, programmable, and reconfigurable materials inspired by cells and capable of producing force and motion. This approach will capitalize on two important design principles of living organisms: (1) cells are composite in nature to meet numerous functional demands, and (2) decision-making and timing are achieved through biomolecular circuitry. 

This effort will couple synthetic hydrogels to living layers of active polymer composites infused with cellular timing circuits to produce next-generation materials that self-actuate programmable cycles of work and motion. The proof-of-concept design will be a gap-closing micro-actuator that closes upon exposure to light and then autonomously re-opens at times and locations programmed into the embedded cell circuits. The material development aims, customized high-throughput characterization, and publicly shared property-formulation libraries will empower the broader Materials Genome Initiative (MGI) community to manufacture and deploy such disruptive materials of the future. The effort will provide opportunities to a diverse set of undergraduate, post-baccalaureate, graduate student, and postdoctoral researchers to broaden the STEM-trained workforce pool. Specifically, the effort will build a new undergraduate research and professional development program with students pursuing interdisciplinary materials research across the five campuses. By developing a fundamental understanding of how to manufacture and control such materials, this project will enable exciting future applications for self-healing infrastructure, self-regulating delivery vehicles, self-propulsive materials, micro-robotics, and programmable dynamic prosthetics.