New York University chemist Nadrian C. Seeman passed away on November 16, 2021. Seeman was known for his pioneering work in founding the field of DNA nanotechnology.
Seeman, the Margaret and Herman Sokol Professor of Chemistry at NYU, founded and developed the field of DNA nanotechnology—which is now pursued by over 250 laboratories across the globe—more than 35 years ago. His creations allowed him to arrange DNA building blocks to form specific molecules with precision through self-assembly—similar to the way a robotic automobile factory can be told what kind of car to make. Seeman’s work led the Christian Science Monitor to conclude that “nanotechnology may have found its Henry Ford.”
In 2010, Seeman was awarded the Kavli Prize in Nanoscience, which he shared with Donald Eigler of IBM’s Almaden Research Center. The Kavli Prize is a partnership of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, the Kavli Foundation, and the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research.
Inspired by Maurits Cornelis Escher’s woodcut, “Depth,” in the early 1980's, Seeman combined the novel notion of branched DNA with directed “sticky-ended” associations to suggest that multiply-connected objects and periodic networks of DNA could be assembled with precise structural features in two or three dimensions. After conceiving this notion, he implemented a program to pursue the area experimentally in his laboratory. He built a cube-like object, the first 3D DNA molecule, and then developed a solid-support method to construct a DNA truncated octahedron.
The catenated nature of these molecules led him to realize that DNA is an ideal component for topological targets, leading to the discovery of an RNA topoisomerase, and the first example of the synthetic topology holy grail, Borromean rings. Realizing that periodic matter required components stiffer than conventional branched junctions, he established the stiffness of the DNA double crossover motif and related species; these molecules enabled both the first 2D periodic lattice of DNA and the first DNA-based nanomechanical device. This device was followed by a robust sequence-dependent device, incorporated into a 2D DNA lattice. He used these techniques to construct “walkers” that could move in designed pathways on DNA surfaces, and ultimately a DNA assembly line that picked up and delivered cargo. In recent work, Seeman began to use these tools to assemble nanoelectronic structures, in which products are built from components that are no larger than individual molecules.
His crowning achievement was a realization of the vision inspired by Escher, the Dutch graphic artist: the creation of self-assembled three-dimensional crystalline DNA structures, a scientific advance bridging the molecular world and the world where we live. To do this, Seeman and his colleagues created DNA crystals by making synthetic sequences of DNA that have the ability to self-assemble into a series of 3D triangle-like motifs.
Seeman was born in Chicago on December 16, 1945. He earned a bachelor of science degree from the University of Chicago (1966) and a Ph.D. in crystallography/biochemistry from the University of Pittsburgh (1970). He did postdoctoral training at Columbia University and at MIT. At MIT, he published several papers that helped to define the structure of RNA. After starting his professional career at SUNY Albany as a crystallographer, Seeman joined the faculty at NYU Department of Chemistry in 1988.
Seeman was the founding president of the International Society for Nanoscale Science, Computation, and Engineering. He has received the American Chemical Society’s Nichols Medal as well as the Sidhu Award from the Pittsburgh Diffraction Society, a Popular Science Magazine Science and Technology Award, the Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology, a Discover Magazine Emerging Technology Award, a Nanotech Briefs Nano50 Innovator Award, the World Technology Network Award in biotechnology, the Alexander Rich Lectureship from MIT, the Frontiers of Science Award from the Society of Cosmetic Chemists, the Nanoscience Award of the ISNSE, the Rozenberg Tulip Award in DNA Computing, the Einstein Professorship of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, a Distinguished Alumnus Award from the University of Pittsburgh, the Jagadish Chandra Bose Triennial Gold Medal, and the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Chemistry.
Ned Seeman is survived by his wife Barbara Lipski, his longtime coworker Ruojie Sha, and many scientific children around the world.
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