When I was a teenager, I was certain that I was going to be a journalist–I was going to change the world, by empowering people with information. I went off to college at UC Berkeley where I promptly decided to double major in English Literature and Molecular & Cell Biology. I dug my heels in at the independent student-run newspaper The Daily Californian, as a reporter, photographer and editor of the Opinion Page and the Arts Section. That was 2001, and in September of that year my vision of the world changed. I decided that I wanted to be an active part of shaping our world, and not just an observer on the sidelines struggling to remain objective.
Within the next year I volunteered, started research in a lab, tried my hand at architecture, fine arts and construction, while finishing up the requisite biotech laboratories and other requirements. At about the same time, I became disappointed in the academic system: here I was at one of the most amazing educational institutions, yet I struggled to combine my seemingly disparate interests. There were no course offerings in the subjects that fascinated me: systems biology, complexity, emergence, information. I decided to study on my own the subjects no one was teaching while writing up an honors thesis entitled “Poetry, Postmodernism and Contemporary Scientific Theory”.
In the process of thinking through patterns and information and how they relate to biology, poetry, art and computer science, I realized that I could not satisfactorily think about the relationships that interested me without a stronger scientific background in Computer Science, Electrical Engineering and Mathematics. I taught myself to program and somehow talked myself into admission in the Computation & Neural Systems doctoral program at Caltech. My research focuses on figuring out how to program molecules to act like robots. We do this using DNA, a molecule that is well-understood, easy to work with, and full of many hidden talents. To a writer this is the ultimate dream: writing a script that gets up and dances.