Living Biotic-abiotic Materials with Temporally Programmable Actuation

Project Personnel

Rae Robertson-Anderson

Principal Investigator

University of San Diego

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Michael Rust

University of Chicago

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Moumita Das

Rochester Institute of Technology

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Jennifer Ross

Syracuse University

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Megan Valentine

University of California, Santa Barbara

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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.