Understanding nature’s microscopic machines
Nature has created an amazing collection of molecular machines—microscopic objects that convert between different forms of energy. Some burn chemical fuel to transport cargo around cells, just like a car engine burning gasoline to move people around town.
And, just as the size, power and efficiency of internal combustion engines significantly affects car designs, the mechanical capabilities of molecular machines strongly influence the shape of living things. Malfunctioning molecular machines can lead to diseases, but artificial machines—inspired by the ones in nature—are promising candidates for nanotechnology applications.
The cellular world these microscopic machines live in is violent, unpredictable, and constantly changing. They have to navigate the microscopic equivalents of hurricanes and traffic gridlock. There is strong evidence that these biomolecular machines have evolved to make the best of, and in many cases take advantage of, their chaotic lives.
As Canada Research Chair in Nonequilibrium Statistical Biophysics, David Sivak uses theory, calculations, and experimental collaboration to investigate how these microscopic car engines transmit energy and information. He is discovering how they manage remarkable fuel efficiency despite being under challenging conditions.
Sivak’s work explores the physical limitations on nanoscale protein functioning, the engineering principles that lead to effective machines, and control strategies for these complex systems. This research will produce a greater understanding of the role of mechanics in biology. This knowledge will, in turn, aid the design of molecular devices for sustainable energy harvesting, efficient information storage and manipulation, or targeted drug delivery.