Moumita Das, an associate professor in RIT’s School of Physics and Astronomy, received a $570,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to lead the modeling efforts to build synthetic neurons and a programmable network of such neurons in an effort to better understand the rules of life.
The project is part of the NSF’s “Big Ideas” initiative — 10 long-term research and process ideas that identify areas for future investment at the frontiers of science and engineering.
Das will work alongside experimentalists and bioethicists to build synthetic analogs of neurons, the basic units of the nervous system, from nonliving material to discover what it is that living cells need to do to function.
The team will have to build more than just a single synthetic cell to understand how they work. Since neurons are designed to transmit information to one another through chemical and electrical signals, the team will program a network of synthetic neurons to study how they work holistically to perform basic functions.