Rebecca Schulman is an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering with a secondary appointment in computer science at Johns Hopkins University. She arrived at Johns Hopkins after working as a Miller Research Fellow in physics (advisor, Jan Liphardt) at the University of California Berkeley. She received a doctoral degree from the California Institute of Technology in Computation and Neural Systems, where she studied with Erik Winfree, and undergraduate degrees in computer science and mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Prof. Schulman is an interdisciplinary investigator. Her research focuses on the development of materials and nanostructures with the capacity for growth, transformation and response similar to those of biological materials. She uses fundamental ideas from chemical engineering, biology, chemistry, soft matter physics, computer science and mathematics together to design and construct these materials and combines theory, modeling and experiment in her work. Dr. Schulman's work lies at the interface of structural and dynamic DNA nanotechnology, materials science and synthetic biology.
Dr. Schulman's group develops tools for the construction of materials that can be reconfigured into numerous different dynamic micron-scale architectures, as the cytoskeleton does using synthetic DNA components. This work includes the development of mechanisms for controlling the nucleation and architecture of semiflexible filaments using the design of assembly pathways with specific energy barriers (Nano Letters 2013, ACS Nano 2017, Nanoscale 2017). Her group also showed how these filaments can assemble between molecule landmarks separated by microns in length, forming circuit-like connectors (Nature Nanotechnology, 2017).
The design of reconfigurable materials requires precise control over assembly pathways, which in turn requires knowing about the thermodynamics and kinetics of self-assembly processes. Prof. Schulman's group has developed rigorous techniques to precisely measure and control the thermodynamics and kinetics of DNA origami components (J. Amer. Chem. Soc. 2016) and also understand how cooperative interactions that occur during assembly of lattices or other large-scale structures (ACS Nano 2016).
A major focus of work in Dr. Schulman's group is the design of molecular circuits that can control material by integrating information from external stimuli and producing oligonucleotide signals that alter the conformation or induce the assembly or disassembly of DNA components. This work includes modeling of chemical reaction networks constructed using DNA strand displacement (Roy. Soc. Inter. 2015) and the design of circuits, such as circuit for time-controlled release of different oligonucleotide signals (ACS Synthetic Biology 2016).
Oligonucleotide signals can direct the assembly and disassembly of nanostructures at specific interfaces and can also on their own form spatial patterns if concentrations of these signals are different in different spatial regions of a material. Dr. Schulman's group has designed mechanisms for forming complex spatial patterns, such as stick figures via the interplay of reactions and diffusion, using molecular circuits inspired by genomic programs for development (Technology, 2013). Her group recently showed how dissipative reactions orchestrated by such molecular circuits can overcome mixing forces to generate stable patterns and shapes (RSC Advances 2017).
Dr. Schulman has received an NSF CAREER Award, DOE Early Career Award, Turing Scholar Award, DARPA Young Faculty Award, the Sherman Chang Award for contributions to research on the origin of life and a Miller research fellowship. Her work received best at conference awards at the Foundations of Nanoscience Conference (2017), DNA Computing and Molecular Programming (2014) and the European Conference on Artificial Life (2005).
As an undergraduate, Dr. Schulman worked with Prof. Gerald Sussman as part of the amorphous computing project. Also as an undergraduate she worked with and published papers with Prof. Boris Katz on natural language processing software and search engine construction. Dr. Schulman helped start the company Answerfriend.com and has also worked with or consulted for several Silicon Valley software companies.