Biology self-assembles structures that have complex structure in which new features appear over at least 10 orders of magnitude, and have amazing functional capabilities. Biological systems can, for example, self-replicate, self-heal, and adaptively change form. To better understand biology and to build the next generation of medical technologies, we need synthetic materials that can communicate effectively with our cells and tissues. This means that our synthetic materials should have the same kinds of complex structures and behaviors they have. We are developing new methods to build these kinds of materials via structural DNA nanotechnology, in which we use synthetic DNA as a building material.
Because the behavior of DNA is highly dependent on its sequence, and its structure and behavior can often be predicted, we can design complex self-assembly "programs" consisting of hundreds of DNA molecules that function as intended. We are currently investigating ways to build "nanobandaids" in which molecules assemble nanoscale patterns like stripes or can count by collectively executing an algorithm. We are also investigating new ways for building biological-abiological interfaces for electrical characterization and for building self-healing materials. To characterize what we build, we use atomic force microscopy and single-cell fluorescence microscopy. We also employ theoretical and computational methods to design these materials: we build stochastic and thermodynamic models and write molecular "compilers" for design.