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Membranes to Molecular MachinesActive Matter and the Remaking of Life$
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Mathias Grote

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780226625157

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226625294.001.0001

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Biochip Fever: Life and Technology in the 1980s

Biochip Fever: Life and Technology in the 1980s

(p.149) 4 Biochip Fever: Life and Technology in the 1980s
Membranes to Molecular Machines

Mathias Grote

University of Chicago Press

This chapter tells the story of attempts to turn biomolecules into technologies that were to lead to improved, life-like computing. The history of biochips adds an unexpected dimension to the history of both bio- and nanotechnologies. Far from venture capital and biomedicine, 1980s biotech and recombinant DNA appear here as radical attempts to redesign existing technology through inspiration from life. Such efforts were endorsed by, for example, cell biologist Lynn Margulis and nanotech posterchild Eric Drexler. Projects aiming to tackle life’s molecular machinery for computing existed in US labs and start-ups as well as within the German chemical industry. By analyzing the failed attempt to materialize a biochip, this chapter puts more flesh on the bones of nanotech history, and reveals its interconnections to materials and the life sciences. Moreover, this chapter describes changes in scientists’ discourse on novel technologies in various media of the 1980s, as it follows molecular machinery from the scientific press into novel magazines or newspapers. Finally, 1980s biochips research will be juxtaposed to optogenetics, a recent endeavor to make molecular machinery work within organisms in order to modify their behavior or to create semi-organic prostheses.

Keywords:   biochip, bionics, biotechnology, chemical industry, computing, Germany, journal, molecular electronics, nanotechnology, optogenetics

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