Paul Rothemund folds DNA into shapes and patterns. Which is a simple enough thing to say, but the process he has developed has vast implications for computing and manufacturing -- allowing us to create things we can now only dream of.
Paul Rothemund won a MacArthur grant this year for a fairly mystifying study area: "folding DNA." It brings up the question: Why fold DNA? The answer is -- because the power to manipulate DNA in this way could change the way we make things at a very basic level.
Rothemund's work combines the study of self-assembly (watch the TEDTalks from Neil Gershenfeld and Saul Griffith for more on this) with the research being done in DNA nanotechnology -- and points the way toward self-assembling devices at microscale, making computer memory, for instance, smaller, faster and maybe even cheaper.