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Published February 1, 2000 | Published
Journal Article Open

Using lateral capillary forces to compute by self-assembly


Investigations of DNA computing have highlighted a fundamental connection between self-assembly (SA) and computation: in principle, any computation can be performed by a suitable self-assembling system. In practice, exploration of this connection is limited by our ability to control the geometry and specificity of binding interactions. Recently, a system has been developed that uses surface tension to assemble plastic tiles according to shape complementarity and likeness of wetting [Bowden, N., Terfort, A., Carbeck, J. & Whitesides, G. M. (1997) Science 276, 233-235]. Here the capacity of this system to compute by SA is explored. Tiles were prepared to test the system's ability to generate three structures of increasing complexity: a periodic checkerboard tiling, an aperiodic Penrose tiling, and a computational tiling that simulates a one-dimensional cellular automaton. Matching rules for these tilings were enforced by coating tiles with patterns of hydrophobic and hydrophilic patches or wetting codes. Energetic, kinetic, and mechanistic details of SA explain differences between experimental structures and mathematically ideal ones. In particular, the growth mechanism observed appears incompatible with computations that make use of a chosen input.

Additional Information

Copyright © 2000 by the National Academy of Sciences Edited by George M. Whitesides, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, and approved December 13, 1999 (received for review September 21, 1999) I thank L. Adleman, E. Winfree, R. Lee, N. Seeman, N. Chelyapov, D. Fygenson, R. Mills, K. Casciotti, K. Bui, J. Lyons, and L. Bennett of Laser Connection, Arcadia, CA, and Flag's Photo of Pasadena, CA. This work was supported by grants from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Sloan Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration/Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Office of Naval Research, and the National Science Foundation. This paper was submitted directly (Track II) to the PNAS office.

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