In his legendary career in chemistry, George Whitesides has been a pioneer in microfabrication and nanoscale self-assembly. Now, he's fabbing a diagnostic lab on a chip.

Why you should listen

Someday Harvard chemistry professor George Whitesides will take the time to look back on the 950 scientific articles he's coauthored, the dozen companies he's co-founded or the 50-plus patents on which he's named. (He works in four main areas: biochemistry, materials science, catalysis and physical organic chemistry.) In the meantime, he's trying to invent a future where medical diagnosis can be done by anyone for little or no cost. He's co-founded a nonprofit called Diagnostics for All that aims to provide dirt-cheap diagnostic devices, to provide healthcare in a world where cost is everything.

Among his solutions is a low-cost "lab-on-a-chip," made of paper and carpet tape. The paper wicks bodily fluids -- urine, for example -- and turns color to provide diagnostic information, such as how much glucose or protein is present. His goal is to distribute these simple paper diagnostic systems to developing countries, where people with basic training can administer tests and send results to distant doctors via cameraphone.

What others say

“Most of the world is self-assembly. We are self-assembled systems.” — George Whitesides

George Whitesides’ TED talks

George Whitesides on the TED Blog

Science

Toward a science of simplicity: George Whitesides on TED.com

April 29, 2010

Simplicity: We know it when we see it — but what is it, exactly? In this funny, philosophical talk, George Whitesides chisels out an answer. (Recorded at TED2010, February 2010 in Long Beach, CA. Duration: 18:35) Watch George Whitesides’ talk on TED.com, where you can download this TEDTalk, rate it, comment on it and find […]

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Invention

A lab the size of a postage stamp: George Whitesides on TED.com

February 3, 2010

Traditional lab tests for disease diagnosis can be too expensive and cumbersome for the regions most in need. George Whitesides’ ingenious answer, at TEDxBoston, is a foolproof tool that can be manufactured at virtually zero cost. (Recorded at TEDxBoston, July 2009, Boston, MA. Duration: 16:16) Watch George Whitesides’ talk on TED.com, where you can download […]

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Quotes from George Whitesides

If you have things that are cheap enough, people will find uses for them, even if they seem very primitive. For example: stones. You can build cathedrals out of stones.
George Whitesides
TED2010 • 514K views Apr 2010
Informative, Inspiring
Cheap, functional, reliable things unleash the creativity of people who then build stuff that you could not imagine. There’s no way of predicting the Internet based on the first transistor.
George Whitesides
TED2010 • 514K views Apr 2010
Informative, Inspiring