Sometimes, thinking big means thinking small. For an audacious collaboration known as the Nanosystems Biology Alliance, the goal is nothing less than to invent a “nanolab,” a chip one centimeter square that can sense 10,000 different proteins and other molecules in a single blood cell, looking for signs of impending disease and helping to identify malfunctioning molecular pathways that could be regulated with drugs.
Reaching that goal will require a combination of advances in nanotechnology, microfluidics, and “systems biology,” which views cells as if they consisted of vast chemical circuits. So the alliance is thinking big as well: it includes researchers in eight labs at three West Coast scientific institutions.
To cofounder Leroy Hood, the alliance represents how it’s possible to push the boundaries of invention by bringing top inventors together-even if they’re separated by geography. “If you want to solve a problem, why not get the best people together to work on it?” says Hood, who is also president of Seattle’s Institute for Systems Biology.
The alliance’s elite eight include people like James Heath, a Caltech chemist and nanotechnology pioneer; Michael Phelps, a University of California, Los Angeles, scientist who coinvented positron emission tomography (PET); and Hood himself, the coinventor of the automated DNA sequencer. Hood’s hope is to combine the group’s mental firepower to build a handheld device that could detect everything from the early signs of cancer to the molecular changes associated with heart disease.
Financing their work from existing academic grants, the alliance members have spent most of the last year learning about each other’s fields, trading postdocs, and exchanging lots-lots-of e-mail. But the alliance “is not completely virtual, or it would not work,” says Heath. He and the members of his Caltech group visit Hood’s lab frequently and swap equipment and materials. Also helping to keep the whole extended collaboration together: “We have a strong and shared vision of where we want to go,” Heath says. “That drives everything.”
Forget dating apps: Here’s how the net’s newest matchmakers help you find love
Fed up with apps, people looking for romance are finding inspiration on Twitter, TikTok—and even email newsletters.
How AI is reinventing what computers are
Three key ways artificial intelligence is changing what it means to compute.
These weird virtual creatures evolve their bodies to solve problems
They show how intelligence and body plans are closely linked—and could unlock AI for robots.
We reviewed three at-home covid tests. The results were mixed.
Over-the-counter coronavirus tests are finally available in the US. Some are more accurate and easier to use than others.
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.