CATALYST Research Project

2023 Project: Programmable Plants and the Internet of Living Things

Lead Faculty: Abraham Stroock
Department: Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Cornell University

Project Description

The 2023 CATALYST Scholars will explore the science and technology of “Programmable Plants” through active learning experiences in biotechnology, plant biology, chemical and material engineering, electrical engineering, and computer science. The activities throughout the week will support the students in developing visions of how integrating plants within an Internet of Living Things (IoLT) can enable a future of sustainable and resilient agriculture. On each of the first four days, the students will learn biological and engineering concepts and apply them to experiments involving technological and scientific approaches from the instructors’ fields of research. On the fifth day, student teams will develop concepts for programming plants and IoLT applications in agriculture and beyond.

Project ideas could include:

  • “Plant collaboratives” in which programmed plants interact with each other and humans to monitor and manage their growing environment to thrive in the face of a changing climate, pests, and microbes.
  • “Plant explorers” in which programmed plants act as living robots that navigate inaccessible places like the soil, the inside of humanmade structures, or in and around other organisms for discovery and repair.
  • “Plant factories” in which programmed plants produces valuable molecules and materials from chemical synthesis through purification and packaging to replace the labor, material, and energy intensive processes of today’s manufacturing of pharmaceuticals.

Instructors: (preliminary list)
Abe Stroock (lead) – Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
Taryn Bauerle – Horticulture Section, School of Integrative Plant Sciences
Margaret Frank – Plant Biology Section, School of Integrative Plant Sciences
Amit Lal – Electrical and Computer Engineering
Sijin Li – Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
José F. Martínez – Electrical and Computer Engineering
Adrienne Roeder – Plant Biology Section, School of Integrative Plant Sciences

Faculty Lead Bio:

After completing a bachelor’s degree in Physics at Cornell, Abraham Stroock spent two years in France. There he worked in the research division of Electricite de France and completed a master’s degree at the University of Paris VI and XI in Solid State Physics. He then returned to the US to pursue a PhD in the Chemistry department at Harvard University with George Whitesides. In the winter of 2003, he joined the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Cornell University as an Assistant Professor. He is the recipient of the Henry and Camille Dreyfus New faculty award (2003), the Office of Naval Research’s Young Investigator award (2004), the 3M Non-Tenured Faculty Award (2006), the Beckman Foundation Young Investigator Award (2006), MIT Technology Review’s TR35 list of top innovators under 35 (2007), and the NSF CAREER Award (2008), Camille Dreyfus Teacher Scholar Award (2009), and the Van Ness Lectureship at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (2010).

Research Interests
The Stroock lab focuses on manipulating dynamics and chemical processes on micrometer scales. Current efforts in the lab relate to 1) the study and application of mechanisms for manipulating liquids inspired by plants, 2) fundamental studies of the properties of liquid water at negative pressure, 3) studies of the biophysical processes that control vascular development and applications of these processes in tissue engineering, and 4) theoretical, numerical, and experimental studies of fluid mechanical processes on small scales for chemical process.


Previous Projects

Information about projects from previous years can be found below: