Technology is an integral part of our contemporary, connected world: The separation between the human and the machine is shrinking more and more, social media dominates human interaction, and devices are becoming more compact, more integrated with living tissues and the environment, and more capable of complex computation. New materials are bringing computing, sensing, and imaging to the skin and the insides of humans. Data are pervasive and rich in emergent information of diagnostic, social, and logistical importance that allows us to see the invisible, access and transfer information globally, and connect like we never have before. The internet of things and the internet of people are becoming one.
The recent success of the “maker movement” is limited largely to materials, is non-sustainable, and is mostly incompatible with the life sciences--arguably contributing more to the depletion of natural resources than to supporting a sustainable approach. The movement has generated approaches generate “traditional” material forms that lack in advanced functions (i.e., forms that do not promote self-healing, do not have a low carbon footprint, and are not implantable, environmentally interactive, edible, compostable).
Form a Living Devices Lab to introduce a different paradigm of making, one based on naturally derived building blocks for advanced technology. The use of nature’s basic structural elements in a technological context opens a variety of solutions that contemporary techniques cannot address, clearing innovative paths toward functional devices at the interface of nature and technology.
A Living Devices Laboratory (LDL) that combines “making and growing” would enable Tufts creators to develop tools that reduce the separation between the biological and technological worlds, thereby redefining formats for technology, manufacturing, medicine, diagnostics, arts, and education. While many universities have machine shops and maker spaces, or materials science centers, the envisioned initiative would be unique because it would bridge both the wet and dry sciences, aggregate tools that operate across disciplines and foster seamless invention workflows, and spark innovative fabrication by connecting ‘bottom-up’ biological self-assembly methods and ‘top-down’ fabrication techniques.
The core research will be based on the available expertise in materials science, specifically biomaterials, along with chemical sensing, diagnostics, electronic interfaces, and data processing. Short-term goals include aggregating stakeholders at Tufts, and establishing an administrative/operations core composed of a Lab Director, Lab Manager, and a grant writer. Connections between schools will be catalyzed by identifying unmet technology needs in established programs across Tufts (e.g. materials for medical implantation, energy harvesting devices, new strategies for nutrition, etc.). New courses will be defined in this first stage. The staff would also assemble a ‘Genius‐bar’ to support the LDL and its constituents. To increase awareness of Tufts success stories, dispersal of proof-of-concept grants from LDL projects will be added to the Tufts New Ventures competition. Long-term opportunities include working towards dedicated space in the Science & Engineering Complex or SciTech that would serve as a central point of reference for advanced prototype development and fundamental science. The complex would empower class and lab-based curricula that could act as the foundation of a minor (undergraduates) or a new master’s degree, support continuing education, further develop the university-wide Entrepreneurship Center, and/or the expansion of the Tufts Launchpad program to provide support for a wider range of ventures launching from Tufts.