Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Stephen Quake has been named recipient of the 2012 $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize, which honors outstanding mid-career inventors dedicated to improving the world through technological invention. Quake is being recognized for his work in drug discovery, genome analysis and personalized medicine.
Quake, a professor of bioengineering and applied physics at Stanford University, will accept the prize and speak about his work on June 22 at the Lemelson-MIT Program’s sixth annual EurekaFest on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Jerome H. Lemelson, one of the most prolific inventors in U.S. history, and his wife Dorothy founded the The Lemelson-MIT Program in 1994. It is funded by The Lemelson Foundation and is administered by MIT’s School of Engineering. The program recognizes the outstanding inventors and innovators transforming our world, and inspires young people to pursue creative lives and careers through innovation.
With a toolbox that draws upon the fields of physics, mathematics, engineering, and materials chemistry, Quake has developed technology that allows scientists to integrate several complex experiments on a single device and devised an entirely new approach to the vexing challenge of growing protein crystals.
Quake's interests unite physics, biology, and biotechnology. His group pioneered the development of microfluidic large-scale integration (LSI), demonstrating the first integrated microfluidic devices with thousands of mechanical valves. This technology is helping to pave the way for large-scale automation of biology at the nanoliter scale. He and his students have been exploring applications of this "lab on a chip" technology in diverse areas such as functional genomics, genetic analysis, microbiology, and structural biology.
Quake's group was the first to use microfluidic technology in the determination of protein structure through x-ray crystallography. The group found that the unique fluid physics of nanoliter-scale reactors allow for control and manipulation of the kinetics of protein growth that are impossible at the macroscale—enabling them to develop a chip that outperforms conventional methods of screening protein crystal growth conditions. This chip, which is used in structural biology labs in industry and academia, has been used to grow crystals from proteins that resisted all conventional attempts.
A pioneer of genome sequencing, Quake is an advocate of using the power of DNA sequencing to monitor health. His research led to the development of a prenatal blood test that accurately detects Down syndrome. His team has devised an ingenious way to the scan fetal DNA present in the mother's blood to determine whether the fetus' cells contain extra chromosomes associated with several types of severe birth defects.
Quake continues to push scientific and technological boundaries and encourages his students to do the same. He has also developed several college-level lab courses to help students acquire a stronger knowledge of science. One course helps students build and test complex scientific instruments from scratch; another ensures that all first-year bioengineering students at Stanford learn molecular biology at the bench. Quake also developed a course in microfluidics at Stanford, which he teaches as a condensed summer school course for the larger scientific community.
Recognizing the importance of early hands-on learning, Quake launched the “Inventor’s Workshop” for San Francisco-area high school students. The program teaches kids how to become inventors, helps them express their creativity in solving real-world problems by using their minds and hands to create new devices.