Molecular data systems have the potential to store information at dramatically higher density than existing electronic media. Many valuable experimental demonstrations of this idea have used DNA, but nature also uses smaller non-polymeric molecules to preserve, process, and transmit information. In this talk I will review some of the foundational principles of chemical data representations, discuss their implications for molecular memory, and present some of our recent research in this area. The theoretical limit for molecular information is two orders of magnitude denser by mass than DNA, and we have been building a suite of new theoretical and experimental tools to consider information storage using mixtures of small organic molecules. Our experimental approach combines software-directed chemical synthesis with mass spectrometry and supervised learning to write and read molecular datasets. We have encoded numerous digital files into mixtures of natural metabolites as well as synthetic small molecule libraries.
Writing abstract information in chemical form also allows us to consider new possibilities for chemical-domain computations. Living systems make simultaneous use of electrical, chemical, and mechanical domains for information processing, sensing, actuation, energy, and memory. We hope that by treating chemical systems as abstract and mutable stores of information, we can uncover new ways to interact with the natural world.
Jacob K. Rosenstein is an Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering at Brown University, in Providence, Rhode Island. He received his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Columbia University in 2013. He previously worked as a systems engineer in the wireless division at Analog Devices and MediaTek, where he contributed to the SoftFone line of cellular baseband chipsets. At Brown, his current research interests are at the interfaces between electronics, chemicals, and information. His work has included low noise CMOS circuits for ion channels and nanopore DNA sensors; ultra low power oscillators and temperature sensors; signal processing for gas sensors and electronic noses; and systems for storing data in mixtures of small molecules.