In this series, I am recommending to you a few life stories about real scientists. I prefer to let these scientists tell their own stories where possible. Autobiographical accounts are interesting and entertaining for both non-scientists and other scientists. My selections here mostly involve scientists I either know personally or at least know about. If further materials like this are needed, they can be obtained readily on the internet or with input from librarians at public or university libraries, science teachers, and other scientists.
In the preceding segment of this series, the story of a very celebrated basic research scientist working on Protein Dynamics in Cell Biology was recommended (see “Scientists Tell Us About Their Life and Work, Part 7”). Part 8 presents the life story of a research scientist who dreamed up and established an amazingly novel new branch of chemical engineering based upon the well-known double-helix of DNA.
Part 8 Recommendations: NEW NANOSTRUCTURES BASED ON DNA
Prof. Nadrian (Ned) C. Seeman (1945 – present) originated several new fields of science and engineering: DNA Nanotechnology, DNA-Based Crystallography, and DNA-Based Computation. His very creative investigations and innovative new concepts for “Structural DNA Technology” often were developed for practical applications (e.g., better production of highly ordered macromolecular crystals, nanocomputation, nano-electronics, nanomedicine, and nanorobotics); thus, he is both a basic and an applied researcher. All of his dramatic innovations and unusual research topics are based on the structure and properties of DNA. Numerous other research labs around the world now also are working with DNA-based nanostructures.
DNA is known to most as the double-stranded genetic material making up chromosomes. The binding between each of the 2 associated strands takes place by specific pairing between their individual nucleotide bases; this binding is very specific and fairly strong. In the laboratory, segments of synthetic single-stranded DNA can be hybridized (reassociated) to form new double-stranded DNA; branch points and unpaired base sequences at the termini can be produced as desired, and are key points of technology for using DNA to produce new nanostructures. Seeman developed and used these characteristic features from the early 1980’s to form self-assembled DNA polygons, and, 2-D and 3-D lattices; subsequently, he went on to invent nanomechanical devices (e.g., synthetic computers, robots, translators, and walkers), and other nanostructures (e.g., superstructures of DNA associated with other species, and nano-assembly lines). In 2004-5, he was the founding president of a new professional science association, the International Society for Nanoscale Science, Computation and Engineering (see: http://isnsce.org/ ).
Seeman’s unconventional research involves unique combinations of biochemistry, biophysics, chemical engineering, computer science, crystallography, nanoscience and nanotechnology, structural biology, and, thermodynamics. His creative ideas and amazing lab studies for making new nanostructures involve both theory and practice, and are also being used to advance scientific knowledge and understanding about the biophysics of intermediates in the recombination of chromosomal DNA during its replication.
Prof. Seeman chairs the Department of Chemistry at New York University. He has received many honors for his pioneering research, including the Sidhu Award from the Pittsburg Diffraction Society (1974), a Research Career Development Award from the National Institutes of Health (1982), the Science and Technology Award from Popular Science Magazine (1993), the Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology (1995), and the Nichols Medal from the NY Section of the American Chemical Society (2008). He is an elected member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (U.K.), and holds an Einstein Professorship from the Chinese Academy of Sciences. In 2010, Prof Seeman and Prof. Donald Eigler (IBM Almaden Research Center, San Jose, California) were jointly honored as awardees of the Kavli Prize in Nanoscience ; also see the photo of these 2 awardees receiving their Kavli Prize from H. M. King Harald of Norway . Seeman is without question an embodiment of what Dr.M wrote about in an earlier essay on the significance of curiosity, creativity, inventiveness, and individualism in science (see: http://dr-monsrs.net/2014/02/25/curiosity-creativity-inventiveness-and-individualism-in-science/ ).
 Kavli Foundation, 2010. 2010 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience. Available on the internet at:
 Kavli Foundation, 2010. The Kavli Prize in Nanoscience (2010). Available on the internet at: http://registration.kavliprize.org/seksjon/vis.html?tid=27454 .
Lots of interesting information about Prof. Seeman is displayed on his laboratory home page (see: http://seemanlab4.chem.nyu.edu/ ). My recommendations (below) start with Seeman’s own explanation of his research in DNA Nanotechnology, as written for non-scientists (1A). For working scientists, his review article provides a stimulating overview (1B). The second recommendation (2) is an official summary of why Seeman and Eigler were selected for the Kavli Prize in Nanoscience in 2010. The third item is Prof. Seeman’s personal description about his own career in science (3), and is filled with stories and anecdotes about both his difficulties and his triumphs; all readers will find this to be a very fascinating account. Dr.M considers that essay to be extraordinary, since it is probably the most unusually forthright and outspoken piece ever authored by a modern scientist.
(1A) Seeman, N. C., 2004. Nanotechnology and the double helix (preview). Scientific American 290:64-75. Available on the internet at:
(1B) Seeman, N. C., 2010. Nanomaterials based on DNA. Annual Review of Biochemistry 79:65-87. Available on the internet at:
(2) Kavli Foundation, 2010. 2010 Nanoscience Prize explanatory notes. Available on the internet at:
(3) Seeman, N. C., 2014. The crystallographic roots of DNA nanotechnology. ACA RefleXions, American Crystallographic Association, Number 2, Summer 2014, pages 19-23. Available on the internet at: http://www.amercrystalassn.org/documents/2014%20newsletters/Summer%202014%20WEB.pdf .
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