Nadrian C. Seeman grew up an only child in Highland Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. His father owned a fur store, and his mother had been a teacher. He was inspired by his high school biology teacher to focus on the interface between the physical and biological sciences. Seeman entered the pre-med program at the University of Chicago, but soon switched his major to biochemistry. He next obtained his PhD in crystallography from the University of Pittsburgh; then took a postdoc at Columbia University, working with Cyrus Levinthal, and a second postdoc in Alexander Rich's lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Rich discovered hybridization, which is the basis of all of Seeman's DNA nanotechnology work although he never really appreciated it at the time. Seeman began his professional career in the biology department at State University of New York at Albany. He went to Leiden, Holland, to learn to make DNA. When Neville Kallenbach left the University of Pennsylvania to become chairman of the chemistry department at New York University, he recruited Seeman to join the NYU faculty.
Seeman was influenced by the Escher print Depth to develop both three-dimensional (cube-like and similar) lattices of DNA, a process requiring branched DNA and sticky ends. This work Seeman calls "structural DNA nanotechnology," which he defines as "using the chemical information in DNA to control the three-dimensional structure of objects, lattices, and nanomechanical devices." As a result he is often referred to as the father of DNA nanotechnology. (He says he is sometimes called the father of single-stranded synthetic DNA topology because he recognized that DNA is the ideal synthetic topological component. ) He founded the International Society for Nanoscale Science, Computation, and Engineering (ISNSCE), whose members are mostly computer scientists, physicists and chemists. His biophysical work analyzing branched DNA and its ramifications was funded by National Institutes of Health. He headed a Nanotechnology Interdisciplinary Research Team (NIRT) working on DNA-based nanomechanical devices; it was funded by the National Science Foundation. He has had funding from the U. S. Navy, the U. S. Army, the Department of Energy and briefly had support from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). He feels that other applications of his work include nanoelectronics and a way to look at what happens in living systems on the molecular scale by using DNA crystals to scaffold biomacromolecules to establish their structures and interactions with other species.
Seeman shared the 2010 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience from the Norwegian Academy of Sciences with Donald Eigler for their "development of unprecedented methods to control matter on the nanoscale." Seeman, in a picture with Eigler and President Obama, is wearing his best—indeed his only—suit, which he bought in Hong Kong on his way to Oslo; he tells a humorous story of the Kavli notification phone call. Seeman founded the field, but there are now more than a hundred groups worldwide in DNA nanotechnology; Seeman names about two dozen of them. Seeman's current work deals with extending the crystallographic aspects of his DNA constructs, as well as automatic molecular weaving. Seeman concludes his interview with a discussion of his extensive travel.