UNC chemist Mike Ramsey is among 67 new members and 11 foreign associates elected to the National Academy of Engineering, one of the highest professional distinctions awarded to a scientist or engineer.
Ramsey is the Minnie N. Goldby Distinguished Professor of chemistry, director of the Center for Biomedical Microtechnologies and a founding member of UNC’s new department of applied physical sciences. He also is affiliated with the joint department of biomedical engineering at UNC and N.C. State University and with the Carolina Center for Genome Sciences.
Ramsey is recognized as a pioneer in the field of microfluidics, which he coined as Lab-on-a-Chip technology more than 20 years ago. Rather than forming tiny wires and switches that allow us to enjoy modern electronic devices such as smartphones, Ramsey formed tiny conduits or pipes, the width of which are on the scale of the diameter of a human hair or smaller, to transport liquids containing chemicals and biological molecules and perform experiments that are normally conducted in test tubes and beakers.
The ability to perform laboratory operations on small scales using miniaturized lab-on-a-chip devices has brought a new approach to the world of chemistry and medicine, where they can be used in more efficient drug discovery and low cost, rapid medical diagnostics.
Over the past decade, Ramsey has been working to miniaturize devices that perform chemistry experiments. For example, he has been developing point-of-care diagnostic devices that accept samples, such as a drop of blood, and within minutes can measure protein or nucleic acid concentrations (by counting the molecules) that are relevant to disease diagnosis and treatment. Another project involves shrinking a mass spectrometer that normally weighs hundreds of pounds to a handheld detector, a technology that can be applied to the detection of chemical warfare agents on the battlefield or identification of materials involved in a chemical spill.
Ramsey is in the process of developing molecular scale fluidic devices to generate whole genome genetic diagnostic information, one chromosome at a time. These devices have applications to diagnosis of diseases such as cancer, autism and autoimmune diseases, among others.
Ramsey also has been heavily involved in the translation of his research to the private sector — he has 94 patents issued in his name. He is the sole scientific founder of Caliper Life Sciences, a company that produces microfluidic tools primarily for the pharmaceutical and biotech industries. Caliper became a publicly traded company in 1999 and recently was acquired by PerkinElmer Corp., an analytical instrumentation provider, for $650 million. Ramsey also is the sole scientific founder of 908 Devices Inc., a venture-financed company formed two years ago that aims to commercialize his developments in handheld mass spectrometry.