Peng Yin, Ph.D., a core faculty member at the Wyss Institute and Assistant Professor in Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School, has been awarded a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support his cutting-edge work in information-directed molecular nanotechnology. The award is one of the most prestigious honors given to up-and-coming researchers in science and engineering.
Under the five-year award, Dr. Yin will strive to emulate nature’s ability to seamlessly integrate information technology with molecular technology to create new programmable nanomaterials. Evolution has created an amazing array of “molecular controllers,” written as discrete genetic codes, that carry information to direct and regulate the growth, development, and operation of living systems from trees to human beings.
Dr. Yin’s team will seek to replicate this “hardware” by developing platforms for engineering synthetic molecular devices from nucleic acid molecules (DNA and RNA) that can then be precisely programmed to perform useful molecular work in much the same way as computers are programmed to accomplish tasks. For instance, the proposed technology could have diverse biomedical applications, including imaging, sensing, diagnostics, and therapeutics.
“This is a great honor for Peng and for the Wyss Institute, as well as an important example of the way that biology can inspire us to create innovative new engineering solutions,” said Wyss Founding Director Donald E. Ingber, M.D., Ph.D. “We’re very proud of Peng’s new approach to engineer nanomaterials that can be programmed to carry out intricate behaviors that are needed to attack complex problems in biology and medicine.”
The project will build on Dr. Yin’s recent successes in engineering the dynamic behavior and target structure of these molecular controllers. It will also include an educational component. Dr. Yin is teaching a course at Harvard on biologically inspired molecular engineering, for which he also helped developed the curriculum. He and his team plan to conduct outreach to minority high school students to introduce them to the role of innovation in research.
The NSF’s Faculty Early Career Development Program is dedicated to supporting early career-development activities for teacher-scholars who effectively integrate research and education within the mission of their organization. The activities funded by the award are meant to serve as a foundation for a lifetime of integrated contributions to research and education.