Living Matter and Biological Materials
In this area, our vision in research is that of a new science and engineering of nano-bio materials and systems in which the structure / processing / properties / utilization paradigm is based on the specificity of bio-molecular and bio-cellular precursors. Proteins and other biomolecules are complex molecular entities with many potentially useful materials properties in non-biological engineering applications. Many proteins exhibit a separation of charge across their surfaces, self-assemble reversibly into polymers, and change structural conformation in response to external chemical and physical cues. Through manipulation of the primary amino acid sequence with modern recombinant DNA and molecular biology methods, these polymeric proteins can be engineered to meet specific materials qualifications or perform a particular molecular task. This ability to design and fabricate proteins with structure and functionality not found in nature makes protein-based engineering a compelling field with fabulous long-term economic potential in a broad range of applications from energy to microelectronics to medicine.
In addition to biomolecular systems, living cells exhibit structure and function arising from complex biomolecular signaling pathways. Cells exhibit redundancy, differentiation, self-replication, motility. Cells organize, interact and communicate. Cells construct living/inert environment for self-sustenance and protection. Cellular-based living matter is an inhomogeneous open system that exhibits microstructure leading to function. Exploration of the science and engineering of living materials may include the nature of genotype and phenotype and the impact of interactions between cells on the collective behavior of living matter. In addition to research on synthetic biology of bacterial systems, there is a need for a theoretical/multiscale computational approach to the reaction/diffusion non-linear dynamics of multicell systems. We envision that the use of biology or biological processes as metaphor in developing new Materials and Information Technology-oriented paradigms (where information is processed, stored, and transported using natural biological structures and systems) will lead, for instance, to breakthroughs in resilient, fault tolerant engineered systems and will provide novel solutions to numerous technological and societal needs.
A key component of a science and engineering of functional biomolecular and biocellular matter is the development of interfacing technologies that can enable stimulation of and informational access to and from the living matter components. These hybrid systems incorporate active biological and non-biological components. This necessitates a multidisciplinary approach involving surface chemistry, microelectronic and microelectromechanical systems engineering and manufacturing, biology, and thin film technologies. Examples of such approaches include library of ligands for multiple parallel and selective attachment of biomolecular systems on large-scale substrates based on the specificity of biomolecular interactions. Others may consist of functional materials for biomolecular and biocellular packaging such as non-biological scaffolds. Tremendously exciting opportunities exist in the integration of biological and non-biological systems in three dimensions. In addition to interfacing biological substances to non-biological systems, this research opens up opportunities for doing just the reverse, that is, binding non-biological substances to biological systems. The biological systems becoming substrates, templates, scaffold for the construction of complex self-assembled materials architectures. Specific example consists of modifying the function of biomolecular structures/templates by binding metals, semiconductors or insulating materials.
In addition, upon recognition that living matter is the archetype of inhomogeneous media. Research in the field of inhomogeneous media such as tissues is still in its infancy. Great opportunities from an experimental and theoretical/computational point of view lie in the application of materials and chemical principles commonly used in materials science and chemical engineering to shed light on the science of reaction/diffusion/transport (see section 3) in living matter with applications to the microstructure evolution and development of such media or the relation between transport and microstructure. Furthermore, while the field of research on elastic composite media is in its expansion phase, living matter exhibits non-linear viscoelastic properties that deserve attention in the context of medical imaging and ultrasonics for instance.