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Rahul Sarpeshkar, Ph.D.

Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
Associate Professor

Room 38-294
617-258-6599 (phone)


Rahul Sarpeshkar obtained Bachelor's degrees in Electrical Engineering and Physics at MIT. After completing his PhD at CalTech, he joined Bell Labs as a member of technical staff in the department of Biological Computation within its Physics division. Since 1999, he has been on the faculty of MIT's Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department where he heads a research group on Analog VLSI and Biological Systems. He holds over twenty five patents and has authored more than 100 publications including one featured on the cover of NATURE. His invention of cytomorphic electronics, described in his recent book [1], has established an important bridge between electronics and chemistry and lays a foundation for an analog circuits approach to systems biology and synthetic biology. He has received several awards including the NSF Career Award, the ONR Young Investigator Award, the Packard Fellows Award and the Indus Technovator Award for his interdisciplinary bioengineering research. He has received the Junior Bose award and the Ruth and Joel Spira for excellence in teaching at MIT.

Research Summary

Analog Synthetic Biology and Systems Biology

Circuits in cell biology and circuits in electronics may be viewed as being highly similar with biology using molecules, ions, proteins, and DNA rather than electrons and transistors [1]. This project exploits the astoundingly detailed similarity between the equations of chemistry and the equations of subthreshold analog electronics [1, 2] to attempt to create large-scale nonlinear dynamical systems that mimic the sensing, actuation, and control systems of biological cells at ultra-fast time scales including their stochastic properties. Such work can shed insight into robustness-efficiency, analog-digital, and other feedback-circuits-and-systems tradeoffs in cells just as in ultra-low-power analog circuit design. Ultra-low-power analog electronic circuits face very similar tradeoffs like cells in biology because of their need to operate quickly, accurately and robustly inspite of mismatched and noisy components and signals, a necessary consequence of having very low levels of available power and space. Thus, analog circuit engineering can shed insight into cell biology just as it has in the past in extensive prior research in our lab on analog circuit models of neurobiological systems. Cell biology, in turn, which performs 10 million biochemical operations at 1pW of power [1], can inspire new circuit and system designs as several neurobiological architectures in the ear, eye, and brain have previously done in our lab ( Hence this project has applications in both systems biology, which aims at an engineering understanding of molecular networks within the cell [1, 3], important for treating diseases such as cancer and diabetes, and in synthetic biology, which aims to reengineer biology using circuits concepts to perform useful functions [1]. Work in this project involves the design and testing of molecular circuits in bacteria and yeast, the design and testing of analog microelectronic chips useful for ultra-fast simulations of molecular and cellular systems, and the creation of analog circuit models of molecular networks.

Selected Publications

Last Updated: January 22, 2011