Sakul Ratanalert is a senior lecturer in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the Whiting School of Engineering.
Ratanalert focused his doctoral research on a specific type of DNA nanostructure referred to as DNA origami where DNA is used as a self-assembling polymer. By programming the sequences of the DNA, the strands can stick to one another beyond the standard double helix to form 2D and 3D structures of arbitrary size and shape.
Motivated by the lack of well-formalized design rules, as well as by the need for a tool to enable the broader use of this nanotechnology, Ratanalert created and developed the software DAEDALUS, which uses an algorithm to automate the design of DNA origami wireframes from CAD structures. He also developed innovations to the design of single-stranded DNA origami, programming the sequence of one strand of DNA to fold on itself to form the entire target shape. With this computational framework, he investigated the thermodynamics of the self-assembly process to understand further how design choices can affect how well the structures form.
Currently, Ratanalert focuses his research on engineering education. He is developing active-learning modules to help students in introductory chemical and biomolecular engineering courses explore concepts while downplaying the underlying math for which they might not yet have a solid foundation. Intuition-building and qualitative analysis of chemical and biomolecular engineering topics are important in early classes, not only to provide a solid basis for understanding the fundamental concepts but to allow students to engage with the content and discipline more easily, both of which motivate students to solve more challenging problems and understand the “why” behind their numbers.
Ratanalert earned his PhD in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2018.