George M. Whitesides

George M. Whitesides
George M. Whitesides
  • From:

    Harvard University | Cambridge, Massachusetts

  • Year:


  • Subject:


  • Award:

    Benjamin Franklin Medal

  • Citation:

    For his pioneering chemical research in the field of molecular self-assembly and his invention of rapid, innovative techniques for the inexpensive fabrication of ultra-small devices for practical use.

George Whitesides created a whole new field of study and technology when he used the fundamental laws of chemistry to let molecules essentially build themselves into structures smaller than anyone had been able to achieve His work in molecular self-assembly and other innovative techniques for manufacturing the ultra small has opened doors to innovative medical technology and improved lithography. Not only did Whitesides revolutionize nanotechnology, his ability to combine knowledge from biology, chemistry, and other disciplines has spurred other scientists to think as broadly as himself.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Whitesides attended Harvard College, graduating in 1960 with an A.B. in chemistry. He went on to earn his Ph.D. in chemistry from Cal Tech in 1964. His first appointment was in the chemistry department at MIT. In 1982 Whitesides moved to Harvard, where he is currently Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor.

In the 1990s Whitesides took previous chemistry research that described how molecular components spontaneously organize themselves into larger structures and applied it to nanofabrication. Where others were attempting to manufacture tiny structures the same way they did larger pieces, but with precision robots doing the miniaturized work, Whitesides realized that a "bottom-up" approach might work better. Taking a cue from living creatures in nature, which are built molecule by self-assembled molecule, Whitesides created a whole new way of thinking about building small components. He went on to innovate other quick, cheap ways of building at this ultra small scale. He developed micro-contact printing and self-assembled monolayers that opened doors for new lithography techniques using patterns just one molecule thick.

To this day, Whitesides directs a broadly cross-disciplinary lab that touches on biochemistry, drug design, neural networks and how self-assembled monolayers mimic cell membranes. In addition to his academic research, Whitesides has helped found more than 12 companies, and he holds more than 50 patents. Among many awards, Whitesides has received the ACS Award in Pure Chemistry, the Arthur C. Cope Award, National Medal of Science, the Kyoto Prize for Advanced Technology, the Welch Award, and the ACS Priestley Medal. Whitesides is a member of the the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.

Information as of April 2009