Acclaimed chemist George M. Whitesides leads a research group at Harvard University dedicated to changing the paradigms of science through wide-ranging work in fields such as soft robotics, the origins of life and medical diagnostic tools for the developing world.
A member of the National Academy of Sciences, Whitesides is the world's most-cited living chemist. He has co-founded a dozen companies and holds more than 100 patents. His research has led to breakthroughs in nanotechnology, creation of new classes of materials, and development of drugs to manage cholesterol, improve dialysis and fight drug-resistant pathogens. One of his current passions is creating a lab on a chip – a postage stamp-sized piece of paper that can be used to diagnose diseases. The paper changes color when it comes in contact with bodily fluids, providing a rapid, easy-to-read, inexpensive diagnostic tool that can be used in developing countries around the world.
Whitesides is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) and the National Academy of Engineering. His many honors include the U.S. National Medal of Science, Japan's Kyoto Prize and an Honorary Fellow designation in the U.K.'s Royal Society of Chemistry. He received a Benjamin Franklin Medal in Chemistry and the Priestley Medal, the American Chemical Society's highest award.
Whitesides has a keen interest in increasing public understanding of science. He has co-authored two books with photographer Felice Frankel: On the Surface of Things: Images of the Extraordinary in Science (2008) and No Small Matter: Science on the Nanoscale (2009). He's known for his engaging presentations, including TED talks on simplicity and surprise in science. He contributed to a National Academies' report on U.S. competitiveness in science and technology, titled “Rising Above the Gathering Storm.” A longtime member of the National Research Council, he has served on advisory committees for NASA, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Defense.
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Whitesides learned about science in boyhood as the son of a chemical engineer. He earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Harvard and a doctorate from the California Institute of Technology. He joined the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1963. In 1982, he moved his lab to Harvard. A former chemistry department chair and associate dean of the faculty of arts and sciences, he is the current Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor. He and his wife, Barbara, have two sons.