Biodesign Institute receives $3M NSF grant to develop DNA-enabled nanoelectronics

September 7, 2023

For decades, the semiconductor industry has relied on decreasing transistor size to increase computing power. However, physical constraints in the manufacturing process have limited further size reductions and the overall density of electronic components.

With the aim to overcome these limitations, a team of researchers led by Arizona State University's Joshua Hihath has been awarded a $3 million grant by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop a new manufacturing process that uses DNA to create ultrahigh-density nanoelectronic systems, leveraging DNA nanotechnology and synthetic biology to create a new generation of useful electronic applications at the molecular scale. Illustration of DNA nanotechnology A new generation of ultratiny electronics is being designed with the help of DNA nanotechnology. Photo courtesy Shutterstock Download Full Image

The four-year project will explore this new approach using DNA nanostructures as a scaffold to organize nanoelectronic components like carbon nanotubes, nanoparticles and single molecules.

By integrating these nanoscale parts with conventional silicon-based circuits, the researchers hope to achieve extremely high densities in hybrid electronic systems.

“Nanoscale and carbon-based electronic devices can provide functionality that is difficult to duplicate in conventional semiconductors,” Hihath, director of the Biodesign Center for Bioelectronics and Biosensors and professor with ASU's School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, says. “Yet, it has been very difficult to integrate these nanodevices into useful electronic circuits. DNA nanotechnology provides an exciting platform for integrating these devices with conventional electronics, with resolutions that are far better than what can be achieved with conventional lithography.”

Hihath is the principal investigator (PI) for the new grant and is joined by co-PI Sule Ozev, a fellow School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering professor, and Peter Wiktor from the Biodesign Institute. Additional team members include co-PIs from the University of Washington (M.P. Anantram), Emory University (Yonggang Ke) and California State University, Chico (Meghdad Hajimorad). Rachna Nath from Arizona College Prep High School will also be involved in the outreach activities.

The grant is funded through the NSF’s Future Manufacturing program, which “supports fundamental research and education of a future workforce to overcome scientific, technological, educational, economic and social barriers in order to catalyze new manufacturing capabilities that do not exist today.”

Joshua Hihath

Horizon of new electronics

DNA nanotechnology provides an incredibly versatile toolkit to design and self-assemble complex nanostructures with unique electronic properties. The team hopes to create “plug-and-play” DNA "nano-cartridges" that can be manufactured separately using bottom-up techniques of self-assembly, then integrate these with traditional top-down silicon fabrication processes. The resulting entities will have versatile properties for a broad range of electronics at an unprecedentedly tiny scale.

An important part of this project is figuring out how to self-assemble highly pure, tiny tubes of carbon, called carbon nanotubes, with functional single-molecule devices in a way that allows them to conduct electricity in a controllable manner. These carbon nanotube-based molecular junctions will form the basis of the electronic devices.

The researchers will then focus on joining these molecular devices together in particular ways to create complex 3D structures using DNA that's been folded into specific shapes, much like origami. The method uses the base-pairing properties of the four nucleotides of DNA that can snap together like Lego pieces. Computer tools and simulations are used to guide the self-assembly process.

Innovative biosensors

An initial target application is manufacturing a new class of inexpensive, highly sensitive and selective biosensors for detecting hundreds of specific biomolecules simultaneously. Such sensors could transform medical diagnostics, food safety monitoring and biodefense. However, the modular and reprogrammable nature of the platform lends itself to diverse nanoelectronic systems in the future.

The convergence of DNA nanotech, synthetic biology and nanoelectronics heralds a new era in manufacturable molecular-scale electronics. The advances enabled by the new grant will help establish scalable design principles and processes that others can build upon, allowing rapid innovation in this field.

Students join in pathbreaking research

The new NSF grant will also focus on creating a diverse, inclusive workforce capable of furthering this nascent field. The project will involve two Hispanic-Serving Institutions and aims to prepare students from diverse educational backgrounds for careers in nanotechnology. It aims to introduce this new area to students in high schools, community colleges, four-year colleges and research universities as part of its comprehensive workforce development plan.

In addition to workforce development, the grant includes a significant outreach program designed to increase enrollment of underrepresented groups in STEM fields. Activities include mentoring high school and undergraduate students in summer research experiences, providing teacher training and introducing K–12 students to cutting-edge science through school visits.

“Today, technology is changing the workplace and the manufacturing process at an incredible rate, so it’s critical to find ways to introduce students to emerging areas as early as possible,” Hihath says.

The project unites experts in chemistry, biochemistry, materials science, electrical engineering, physics, computer science and education. Collaborators bring synergistic capabilities in nanofabrication, DNA origami design, carbon nanotube chemistry, single-molecule electronics, circuit design, control systems and electronic simulations.

Richard Harth

Science writer, Biodesign Institute at ASU


Sanford School welcomes 4 new professors eager to make a difference

Faculty bring expertise in topics like American gun culture, inequality and positive human development

September 7, 2023

This semester, the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics at Arizona State University is ushering in four new faculty members to its programs. With expertise in sociology and family and human development, the incoming professors aim to bring enriching discussions to their fields and explore new perspectives alongside students.

Meet the four new professors and learn about their research interests and goals for this academic year: Collage of portraits of new ASU Sanford School faculty. Clockwise from top left: Jennifer Carlson, Abraham Calderon Martinez, Mengya Xia and Jasmine Suryawan Buenviaje.

Jennifer Carlson, professor

Carlson, who previously taught at the University of Arizona, researches the sociology of guns in America. Her courses, which will be available in the spring semester, take a nuanced approach to the various facets of gun culture, including gun law, violence, rights and regulation. She seeks to explore the topics in terms beyond the either-or gun debate dominating the national conversation. One of her goals is to help students appreciate the complexity of gun culture in America and have productive conversations despite disagreeing views.

“What I hope students get from taking my course Guns in America is actually understanding that one-dimensional ways of categorizing people's views on guns … doesn't get us very far,” Carlson said. “My job isn't to tell you what to think. It's to help you think through what you do.”

Abraham Calderon Martinez, assistant teaching professor

Calderon Martinez is interested in the dynamics of inequality in society, specifically the ongoing tension between the powerful and the less powerful. By taking a historical approach to issues in equality, Calderon Martinez seeks to investigate and analyze how the distribution of resources in society influences control. This semester, he hopes to not only help students break down societal issues but see the resilience and optimism in humanity.

“I hope students will learn from me that there is hope," he said. Society is filled with struggle, hardship and difficult circumstances — and it's very easy to focus on those. And we, of course, should, as people who want to fully understand society. But I hope to impart that there's also so much inspiration that we can get from digging deeper into the human condition: that will to survive, that will to thrive and that spirit that is inherent.”

Mengya Xia, assistant professor

As an assistant professor in family and human development, Xia studies personal well-being and positive development in all cultures and life stages. Using a systems-oriented, inquiry-based approach, her research explores how day-to-day familial interactions promote positive adolescent development. She is also interested in how positive social interactions make people feel loved in general. She aims to make her classes welcoming of all views and backgrounds so students have a place to belong.

“I hope my students can learn from me (new) ways to approach problems in life,” Xia said. “I like to tell (students) that my class is a safe space. That you are accepted as who you are because we all understand that people have different perspectives and have different paces.”

Jasmine Suryawan Buenviaje, assistant teaching professor

Suryawan Buenviaje specializes in race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality, with an emphasis on queer and trans studies. As a queer and transgender Southeast Asian American, her desire is to reach out to understudied or hidden populations and provide them with a voice and a way to tell their stories. This semester, she is teaching courses in social science research, research methods and the sociology of relationships. She looks forward to connecting with students and learning from their experiences.

“My favorite thing about working with students is the connections I am able to make with them,” Buenviaje said. “I hope students learn the capacity to connect their individual lives to their larger social worlds and better understand their place in the community.”

Jennifer Moore

Communications Specialist Associate, T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics