Friday, November 18, 2016

The Living Computing Project

Yesterday, I spent the whole day immersed in the engineering challenges of computing with living organisms. The occasion was an internal team workshop on the Living Computing Project, a really cool NSF-funded project involving a whole bunch of synthetic biologists at MIT and BU.

What makes this particular project so unique is that it's not tied to particular applications, but instead lets us really focus on the foundational questions of how to store, process, and communicate information inside of living cells. In this project, we get to build the engineering models and tools that will enable all sorts of different applications, and I get to play a sort of "metrics czar" role, integrating lots of different elements across the project as a whole, as well as connecting our work on the project with work being performed in other organizations.

We've been working on this project for nearly a year now, and in our meeting yesterday, I saw a number of places where things are really starting to gel intellectually. I'm excited to have people interested in getting their units right, and about getting precise and predictive models that can let us know right away whether something that we want to build is likely to be feasible and to go right to the designs we want. I'm also very excited about the potential in some of the biological devices that we are working on and with.

I like to have my research be applicable and have a clear use story. But sometimes, it's also nice to just be a engineering scientist and work on the tools we get to use in building those applications too. I'm happy that we're working with folks at NSF who share that vision and understanding, and have been willing to give us some rope to go and work on the foundations of the field.
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