MacArthur Fellows Program

MacArthur Fellows / Meet the Class of 2000

Erik Winfree

Computer and Materials Scientist

Pasadena, California

Age: 31 at time of award

Published July 1, 2000

Erik Winfree is a leader in the emerging field of biomolecular computing.

He has incorporated recent advances in computer science, molecular biology, nanotechnology, and mathematics to create a novel approach to molecular computing.  Winfree has significantly expanded the concept of DNA computing by using naturally occurring molecules and enzymes to build non-naturally shaped DNA structures, such as branched DNA or two-dimensional sheets that have the potential to perform massively parallel computations.  He then applied these concepts by creating self-assembled DNA sheets in the laboratory.  In recent work, Winfree has proposed an alternative to encoding information in the DNA—that computations can be represented as interactions among artificial genes.  This proposal implies that biological cells are themselves computational devices and that understanding gene regulation may depend on identifying the calculations that they make.

Winfree is an assistant professor of computer science and of computation and neural systems at the California Institute of Technology.  His numerous articles have appeared in such publications as the Journal of Computational Biology, DNA Computers, and PLoS Biology.

Winfree received a B.S. (1991) from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. (1998) from the California Institute of Technology.

Last updated January 1, 2005