(4cj) Bio-Inspired, Smart and Functional Systems through Reaction-Diffusion-Convection Processes

Authors: 
Soh, S., Northwestern University
Grzybowski, B., Northwestern University


Smart and functional systems detect cues from its surrounding, respond appropriately to these cues and perform their intended purposes. At present, development of these systems have mainly relied on electronic-based machineries, devices and robots for solving problems in all aspects of our lives. While this approach has largely been successful, it is still far less intelligent than naturally-occurring examples ranging from a single cell to any larger biological organisms. Despite their complexity, these systems from nature operate almost entirely out of chemical reactions coupled with diffusion and/or convection processes. Learning from these systems and engineering the appropriate reaction and transport processes provide the solution to non-electronic-based intelligent systems with vast potential. Current research is also gravitating toward development of intelligent systems using these physical principles. Some demonstrations include (1) camphor ?boats? which self-assemble dynamically on an air-water interface, swarm autonomously and display ?chemotactic? behaviors toward gradients of concentration, temperature and depth of water. Directional and rotational control is also possible for this primitive system. Other examples are (2) oil droplet on an air-liquid interface solving for the shortest path in a maze, (3) core-shell catalytic hydrogels for performing sequential reactions, (4) at a micron-nano scale, ultra-sensitive chemical sensors through cross-linking the surface of a crystal composed of nanoparticles and so on. This research would involve interdisciplinary knowledge from physics, chemistry to biology. Besides manipulating with physical processes such as diffusion and convection, this effort will be coupled with knowledge of chemical reactions fueled by examining databases of organic molecules. Exploring these databases or the networks of organic chemistry will enable the identification of appropriate sets of reactions necessary for mimicking complexity found only in biology.