The idea behind Google—boiling down vast stores of knowledge into an elegant little package—is also the idea behind the thing Whitesides is now holding in his hand, a so-called lab on a chip no bigger than a postage stamp, which is designed to diagnose a variety of ailments with nearly the precision of a modern clinical laboratory.
It’s intended for health workers in remote parts of developing nations. They will place a drop of a patient’s blood or urine on the stamp; if the ailment is one of the 16 or so that the stamp can recognize, it will change color according to the affliction. Then the health worker, or even the patient, can take a picture of the stamp with a cellphone. The picture can be sent to a doctor or a lab; someday a computer program might allow the cellphone itself to make a tentative diagnosis.
Our profile of nanotechnology pioneer George Whitesides just hints at some of the possibilities for the future in this area of research. For more, watch Whitesides' lecture below, filmed at TEDxBoston last year. (As a bonus, I've also included his TEDTalk about simplicity. It's fascinating. Enjoy!)