A Computer Scientist In a Lab Coat

In 1994, the world was on the verge of the dot-com boom and Ron Weiss, a graduate student in the computer science program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, had just earned a master’s degree for his work on a Web application to manage video streams. But just as Internet technology was heating up, the focus of his adviser’s research was starting to shift to a more esoteric topic: DNA-based computers. Weiss, who had not taken a biology class since high school, wasn’t entirely happy with the new direction. “Biology is so messy. I don’t want to deal with it,” he recalls thinking.

Weiss has since overhauled his opinion about the science of life, but he hasn’t entirely abandoned his preference for well-ordered things. Today, as the director of MIT’s Synthetic Biology Center, he is working to program cells.

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