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Artificial chemistries: From designing matter to mimicking life

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Biology is a discipline studying life-as-we-know-it: life on earth, based on carbon chemistry. Even though it is the result of millennia of evolution through natural selection, there is no reason to believe that this form of flora and fauna around us is the only possible ‘solution’, leading to one of the fundamental obstacles in theoretical biology: how can one establish general theories of life when only one instance of it is available to us? The field of Artificial life — essentially a synthetic approach to biology — is trying to bridge the gap by exploring life-as-it-could-be. The reactions and types of molecules we observe in living systems, however, can constrain and make the exploration difficult. We therefore turn to artificial chemistries that study and explore ‘chemical’ reactions as they could be imagined. In an artificial chemistry, one starts with reactants, i.e., atoms, that follow certain interaction rules we prescribe. This leads to a combinatorial space of possible structures, i.e., molecules, that goes beyond what we know in the chemistry we live in. We then define how the molecules interact (this can be whatever one wishes), leading to the dynamics in this vast combinatorial space. Even though mostly computational, with fast developments of subfields in (bio)chemisty such as supramolecular chemistry and DNA nanotechnology, experimental realizations of artificial chemistries are not so far fetched anymore. I will discuss our recent work on self-assembly of particles into supracolloidal complexes through programmable folding, and show experimental realizations of colloidal foldamers – our the first step toward realization of complex architectures.

This talk is part of the Theory - Chemistry Research Interest Group series.

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