Accessible Bioanalysis for the Developing World and the Point of Care

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On the occasion of its 2017 Industrial Partners Day and Exposition, the Center for the Science and Technology of Applied Materials and Interfaces (STAMI) is pleased to host a public lecture by Harvard University Professor George M. Whitesides.


This talk will describe bioanalytical/medical methods designed for use in resource-limited environments, for public health, at the point of care, and in related applications in food and water safety, forensics, and others. These methods include paper diagnostics, density-based methods (magnetic levitation and two-phase polymer systems), electrochemistry, and cell-phone-based methods.

The program also asks what strategies in academic research will be most successful in translating results from university bench science into real solutions to problems in health in the hands of users, and who else must be involved in this translation.


George M. Whitesides is one of most influential chemists living today. The Harvard University professor has spent his legendary career solving problems in science and industry. He works in four research areas – biochemistry, materials science, catalysis, and physical organic chemistry – across more than a dozen problems, from the chemical origin of life to low-cost diagnostics and tools for global health.

For the Whitesides research group, “the most important objective of science and technology is to solve problems in a way that improves the human condition,” he said in 2011 in accepting the King Faisal International Prize for Science. “Knowledge is good; knowledge applied successfully to the solution of problems is better, [but] also more difficult to do.”   

In a 2012 interview with MIT Technology Review, Whitesides named the kinds of problems he most wants to solve.

First are what he calls scientific problems, such as the origin of life. “I don’t understand how you go from a system that’s random chemicals to something that becomes...a Darwinian set of reactions that are getting more complicated spontaneously,” he said.  

Second are what may be considered translational problems: how to get research-based knowledge to work in real environments. As an example, the Whitesides group has been working on low-cost diagnostics based on paper. “It’s not that we don’t know how to do it, but we haven’t done it yet,” he said. In a TED talk, Whitesides describes one solution: an inexpensive lab-on-a-chip made of paper and carpet tape.

As a teacher, Whitesides is interested in a third type of problem: “How do you find the connection between individual students and what they want to do in such a fashion that they end up being good scientists,” he said. “What’s necessary to do that?”

There is no shortage of problems to solve, from the intellectual to the practical. “Young people everywhere...will inherit these problems,” Whitesides said in his King Faisal acceptance. “Educating young people, helping them to understand the importance of what they are to do, and encouraging them to take on large tasks is as important as – and perhaps more important than – the science and engineering they do as students.” 

Whitesides is the author or coauthor or more than 1,100 scientific papers. He has mentored more than 300 scientists and co-founded more than 12 companies. His contributions are wide-ranging, including materials and organic surface chemistry, soft lithography, molecular self-assembly, nanotechnology, microfluidics, energy production and conservation, and rational drug design.


Lectures in this series are intended to inform, engage, and inspire students, faculty, staff, and the public on developments, breakthroughs, and topics of general interest in the sciences and mathematics. Lecturers tailor their talk for nonexpert audiences.


  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created By: A. Maureen Rouhi
  • Created: 09/20/2017
  • Modified By: A. Maureen Rouhi
  • Modified: 09/25/2017