Sunanda Sharma Dissertation Defense

March 30, 2020
11:00am — 1:00pm ET

Title:  Designing the Organism-Environment Relationship: Principles for Biodesign Prototyping at Scale 


How does one reconcile the complex uncertainties of living systems with the control required for real-world design? This is the central question facing the field of biological design and the creative intersection it occupies, seeking to move beyond the mimicry of biological processes and structures into physical fabrication of biohybrid materials and products. In experimental biology, the variability of life is often intentionally stifled through the use of highly controlled environments and well-characterized materials and organisms. However, the resulting findings cannot easily be translated out of the lab in a physical setting, severely limiting the potential impacts of this field. The stakes for impactful science and design are becoming increasingly high, given the stark deterioration of the natural environment and the imminent exploration of extreme reaches, such as deep space. At this point in the history of science and design, we are fortunate to experience two extremes - tools that allow for finer control than ever before possible, be it additive manufacturing, microscopy, or computational design - and a wave of systems-level thinking that grapples with the overwhelming complexity and variation of nature. Building upon ideas from nonlinear dynamics, systems biology, architecture, and design, I propose an experimental approach to biological design, which seeks to provide guidelines and achieve influence at large spatiotemporal scales and in dynamic environments while considering inherent stochasticity in living systems as a feature. I present six project areas, spanning multiple phyla, scales, and public venues, through which I develop and demonstrate a workflow for the physical creation of biohybrid objects and structures.

Committee members: 

Professor Neri Oxman, Sony Corporation Career Development Professor and Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, MITProfessor Ed Boyden, Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences and Y. Eva Tan Professor in Neurotechnology, MIT
Dr. Danny Hillis, Widney Professor of Engineering and Medicine, USC; Visiting Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, MIT

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