Lulu Qian

2022 Polymaths Award Winner

Dr. Lulu Qian is a Professor of Bioengineering at the California Institute of Technology where she advances the theory and practice of engineering molecular systems with intelligent behaviors. Dr. Qian takes inspiration from fundamental principles in biology and conceptual frameworks in computer science to develop systematic approaches for the construction of artificial molecular machines. She invented DNA-based neural networks that classify complex and noisy molecular information, which provided a proof of concept that rudimentary brain-like behavior can exist in test tube chemistry. Her work on DNA self-assembly pioneered simple ways to create nanostructures with programmable patterns and dimensions comparable to the smallest living cells. Dr. Qian’s creation of swarm molecular robots demonstrated how nanomechanical tasks can be carried out autonomously by simple molecules following energy-efficient algorithms. Visit the Qian Lab website for more information on their work.

Planned Polymaths Work: Dr. Qian’s future research concerns how artificial molecular machines can be programmed to learn from their environment and become “smarter” over their lifetimes, how they can be powered by universal energy sources and stay “alive” for sustained operation, and how they can be used to empower macroscale materials with molecular-scale robotic behaviors that incorporate memory, pattern recognition, reconfiguration, and learning.