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Dissertation Defense

Saul Griffith:
"Growing Machines"

Thursday, May 13, 2004, 10:00 AM EST

Bartos Theatre, MIT Media Lab (E15)

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Joseph Jacobson, Chair
Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences
MIT Media Laboratory

Shuguang Zhang
Thesis Reader
Associate Director, Center for Biomedical Engineering, MIT

Alexander H. Slocum
Professor of Mechancial Engineering, MacVicar Faculty Fellow
Department of Mechanical Engineering

Biological systems are replete with examples of high complexity structures that have "self assembled," or more accurately, programmatically assembled from many smaller, simpler components [20,22,23]. By comparison, the fabrication systems engineered by humans are typically top down or subtractive processes where systems of limited complexity are carved out of bulk materials. The "programming" of our engineered systems is typically by layered lithography or by computer-controlled manufacturing systems (CAM), both of which give rise to limitations in the structure and complexity that can be manufactured.

The nascent field of self-assembly has arisen to try and bridge the gap between the manufacturing systems exhibited by biological systems, and human-engineered systems. Importantly, it is an effort to design and understand manufacturing techniques for accessing complex structures at the micrometer and nanometer scale.

To date, however, self-assembly has resembled crystallization more than it has the programmatic assembly of complex or useful structures.

This thesis examines the limitations of self-assembly as it is currently framed, and introduces state to the individual components of the assembly, enabling some unique properties for these programmatically assembling systems, including error prevention, self-replication, and deterministic assembly design. The construction and complexity space a manufacturing paradigm based on growing and reconfiguring structure makes available is analyzed in this context. The constraints imposed by building with such components will be discussed, as will be methods for their design. Manufactured systems of assembly at liquid-liquid interfaces and on 2-D air bearing surfaces will be demonstrated and discussed.

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