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Researchers Take Boise State and its Logo to New Nano Limits

By: Kathleen Tuck   Published 4:04 pm / September 23, 2013

OrigamiB-BoiseStateB-animationBy Rebecca Mirsky

As part of a research effort aimed at controlling matter at the nanoscale, Boise State University researchers have created a molecule-sized Boise State logo using DNA. The team, led by Elton Graugnard, assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE), used a technique known as “DNA origami,” which was invented by Paul Rothemund, senior research fellow at Caltech.

Undergraduate MSE major Kelly Schutt and MSE Ph.D. student Brett Ward programmed a long loop of single-stranded DNA to “fold” into the shape of the B logo using short, complementary, single-stranded “staple” DNA strands to hold the structure together. Using DNA-specific computer-aided design (CAD) software called caDNAno (created by Shawn Douglas, now at UCSF), Schutt generated a design to program the DNA into the B logo shape. With feedback from MSE Ph.D. student Sadao Takabayashi, the CAD design was rendered into molecular form to confirm the target structure and analyzed by finite-element analysis using CanDo (created by Mark Bathe, MIT).

The DNA strands were mixed in solution, and roughly one trillion identical DNA Bs were produced in about four hours. (For comparison, in the late 1980s, IBM was able to create just one copy of their logo using 35 xenon atoms.) Proper synthesis of the Bs was verified by imaging the structures with a Bruker MultiMode 8 atomic force microscope. The results, shown in the figure above, demonstrate the ability to program DNA to form arbitrary shapes with extreme precision. Such DNA structures are being developed in Boise State’s Nanoscale Materials and Device Group as novel materials for building future electronic and optical computer circuits from molecules.

B_Logo_NanoAlthough molecular circuits still have a long way to go before they are used in commercial products, semiconductor companies like Micron Technology currently are looking at ways to make new computer chips using the programmable nature of DNA. In a related effort, a research team at Boise State led by associate MSE professor Will Hughes was recently awarded a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to develop the knowledge necessary to make manufacturing with DNA a reality.

Hughes’ team also includes Wan Kuang, associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Eric Lindquist, director of the Public Policy Center; Peng Yin at Harvard University’s prestigious Wyss Institute; and Scott Sills at Micron Technology. The goal for the team is to address the technical and non-technical barriers to implementing scalable nano-manufacturing, from DNA crystallization to semiconductor fabrication in Idaho.

The DNA Origami Project was supported by Boise State’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, the National Science Foundation, the Idea Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) program of the National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the W. M. Keck Foundation. To learn more, visit