Rebecca Schulman, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, is an expert in developing programmable, active devices that self-assemble from DNA. Her group focuses on molecular electronic devices and tools for biological and biophysical research.
Schulman and her research group seek to understand how to build complex chemical systems for autonomous self-assembly, pattern formation, and detection and response. Major themes include self-assembly of active molecular structures and complex metamorphosis, environmentally adaptive self-assembly, and intelligent surface interactions. DNA nanotechnology enables the design of complex molecular self-assembly processes involving hundreds of different species that produce structures with virtually arbitrary features at the nanoscale. Schulman’s group develops these techniques and uses them to produce structures that can be used to develop new assays and therapeutics for biologists, smart materials for cell culture and drug delivery, and self-assembling molecular circuits. Another major direction is the development of autonomous soft micro-robots powered and controlled by biochemical reactions.
Schulman’s team builds these devices by applying basic tools the group has developed for dynamic self-assembly of materials and chemical circuits for self-regulation. The group focuses on the development of mechanisms for constructing massively reconfigurable materials using design principles similar to those the cytoskeleton uses. This work includes the development of mechanisms for controlling the nucleation and architecture of semiflexible filaments using the design of assembly pathways with specific energy barriers. Other work is focused on the design of molecular reaction systems (or chemical reaction networks) for regulating energy flow within materials and for sensing and responding to environmental signals.
Schulman has developed new means of building and repairing molecular circuits using a technique called point-to-point assembly and has developed new classes of soft materials called “hydrogels” that can change form in response to specific biomolecular sequences (or codes), paving the way for new classes of biomedical devices, robots, and materials.
Schulman has received an NSF CAREER Award, DOE Early Career Award, Turing Scholar Award, DARPA Young Faculty Award, and a DARPA Director’s fellowship. Her work received best at conference awards at the Foundations of Nanoscience Conference (2017) and the DNA Computing and Molecular Programming (2014).
Schulman earned BS degrees in mathematics and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1999 and her Ph.D. in computation and neural systems from the California Institute of Technology in 2007. She was a post-doctoral scholar in computer science at the California Institute of Technology and a Miller Postdoctoral Fellow in physics at the University of California, Berkeley.