Our group has recently achieved profoundly novel results by creating and studying new “active materials” whose essential functions mimic some of the building blocks of life (as reported in such journals as Science* and Nature). Their microscopic dynamics includes energetic behavior as they writhe, meld and separate under their own power.

Our newly-developed materials offer a chance to study one of the big questions of cellular function, cytoplasmic streaming. Evolutionary and cellular biologists have long been aware of the importance of the action of the material makeup of cells for the development and maintenance of life. Until now, there has been no physical analogue to the dynamic action of cytoplasmic materials, leaving many distinct speculations unexplored.

We propose to use our materials as a testbed for such study and to simultaneously explore the implications of such active matter for the big picture of the study of life. Incorporating laboratory research at two universities, fabrication of new materials for dissemination to other labs, and close interdisciplinary collaboration with other scholars, this proposal represents a first step into what promises to be an entirely new way of looking at the nature and function of living systems.

* Sept. 5, 2014 Cover