Biological systems, ranging from neuronal circuits in multicellular organisms to biological circuits responsible for immune memory, display a remarkable array of information storage and retrieval capabilities. The olfactory system, for example, is involved in storing information about a vast range of smells and distinguishing them from mixed odors. The immune system is responsible for storing memory from a previous infection and using this to elicit responses during new infections. The foundational paradigms used to understand information storage and retrieval, however, usually assume some kind of equilibrium. In this talk, motivated by advances in the field of active matter, where non-equilibrium dynamics has been shown to activate new assembly and organization pathways, Professor Vaikuntanathan will describe how non-equilibrium activity can dramatically improve memory and information processing performance.
Suri Vaikuntanathan is an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Chicago, and leads the Vaikuntanathan research group. The group develops and uses tools of equilibrium and non-equilibrium statistical mechanics to understand the behavior of complex systems in physical chemistry, soft condensed matter physics, and biophysics. Specific research directions of the group include statistical mechanics of driven systems and self-assembly out of equilibrium, information processing and control in biology, and organization and assembly in soft matter. Professor Vaikuntanathan earned a PhD in chemical physics from the University of Maryland, College Park in 2011, and was a Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Berkeley from 2011-2014. Professor Vaikuntanathan has been an Alfred P. Sloan Fellow, and was a recipient of the 2018 NSF CAREER Award, the Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award in 2020, and most recently, the 2023 Early Career Award in Theoretical Chemistry by the Physical Chemistry Division of the American Chemical Society.