2018 NANOSMAT Conference Honors Paul Weiss and Ali Khademhosseini

ACS Nano is pleased to congratulate Editor-in-Chief Paul Weiss and Associate Editor Ali Khademhosseini on their recognition by the 2018 NANOSMAT Conference with, respectively, the NANOSMAT Prize and the NANOSMAT Award.

The NANOSMAT Prize was set up in 2009 to acknowledge high-caliber senior international scientists under the age of 65. Professor Weiss was selected for this year’s Prize for his years of pioneering work in the field of nano-chemistry and nano-technology, recognizing that his work addresses both curiosity-oriented and application-driven issues in the field of nanoscience. The NANOSMAT selection committee also noted how touched they were by Weiss’s splendid example of tutorship and mentorship of such a large number of undergraduate and graduate students, including postdoctoral co-workers and young visiting scholars at the California NanoSystems Institute.

Weiss will receive his prize at the 13th NANOSMAT Conference in Gdansk in September, where he will also deliver a lecture during the opening plenary session.

The NANOSMAT Award given to Khademhosseini honors scientists under the age of 45.  Khademhosseini and his group at UCLA are using cutting-edge technologies like “organ-on-a-chip” systems, 3D printing, and tissue engineering to recreate the complexity of human physiology outside of the body, fundamentally altering the way we think about drug development and regenerative medicine.

I caught up with Weiss and Khademhosseini to congratulate them on their achievements and learn more about their journeys.

Why did you choose nanoscience and nanotechnology as your field of study? If you were not working in this field now, what would you be doing?

WEISS: My early scientific interests were in chemistry and electronic structure. That led me into scanning tunneling microscopy and spectroscopies in the early days of the field (when I was at IBM Almaden). We realized that we could measure properties at the nanoscale by developing and applying a series of different spectroscopies. We also realized that we could manipulate atoms and molecules, which is quite different to other microscopies. In my last four days at IBM, before I started my academic career, I was the first one to do so. The real attraction of the field to me was that there was so much that was unknown, and that we could be the first ones to explore these tiny worlds.

If I were not a scientist, I would be a failed stand-up comedian.

KHADEMHOSSEINI: I did biological research for my masters and realized how much engineering the cellular microenvironment at the micro and nanoscale can help biological experiments. Since then I have been involved in trying to use these technologies to address biological and medical problems.

When I was young, I wanted to be a professional baseball player, although I doubt I would be doing that if I were not a scientist. I have always had an obsessive personality so at different times I was focused on different things like chess, science, politics, etc.

How has the field changed during your career?

WEISS: Many more scientists, engineers, and others have entered the field, but much remains unknown. There remains great interest, but fewer of us develop new tools to explore new areas.

KHADEMHOSSEINI: The intersection of biology and nanotechnology has changed dramatically since I first started.  The greatly matured and now there is ample evidence and appreciation about how nanosciences and nanotechnology can address medical problems. For example, there are now many different types of materials that are being tested for clinical problems. Also, there are many institutes and centers that focus on this area around the world which shows how the importance of the field is being appreciated.

What’s next for your research?

WEISS: We have learned to apply tools and methods that we have developed in nanoscience to other areas such as neuroscience, molecular biology, and the microbiome (we wrote the technology roadmaps for the BRAIN Initiative and the US Microbiome Initiative). We are also now working on high-throughput gene editing technologies in my group.

KHADEMHOSSEINI: I am interested in merging the latest materials that utilize nanoscale control to enable the field of precision medicine. We would like to develop materials, devices, and even cells that can respond to the variabilities that each patient has. For example, we would like to develop devices that are based on nanoelectronics and flexible substrates that can be implanted to collect data about a particular disease and to deliver therapies to the patient. Or to develop biomaterials that can respond to different patients.  Another area that is important for us is to develop microscale tissues that can mimic human tissue response so that we do not have to test the effects of drug candidates in animals. These predictive human tissue models can be made from patient-specific cells to generate a ‘personalized response’ to various drugs to help the clinicians make more informed decisions.

Who has inspired you in your work and helped you get to where you are?

WEISS: The two people who have inspired me the most are:
1) Dr. Leroy (Lee) Hood, with whom I did a sabbatical. Lee had a hand in developing each of the key tools that enabled the biotechnology revolution, thinking ahead to how to apply them.
2) Professor Anne Andrews, who got me to think beyond nanoscience at how we could apply the tools that we developed to other fields. We started working together on measurements for and in the brain (she is a neuroscientist and one of the associate editors of ACS Chemical Neuroscience) and have been together ever since.

KHADEMHOSSEINI: My Ph.D. mentor Professor Bob Langer has greatly inspired me to realize about what is possible by one individual: he is incredibly generous and kind which has been very helpful. I have had many other mentors that have helped me throughout my life. For example, Professor Nicholas Peppas has always been a great supporter and mentor. Having such incredible people in my professional career has helped me immensely.

What’s the best career advice you’ve received? Do you have any advice for young chemists?

WEISS: The best advice I have been given is to think what the most important way that we could spend our time on the day, week, month, year, and decade time scales. We have a rule in our research group that if someone else can do an experiment, they can have it, since we can be confident that it will get done. We should put together experiments that address important problems about which we care deeply, enough to invest our time, which is our most precious resource.

KHADEMHOSSEINI: Focus on big problems. Be the best in whatever career you choose. Find your passions and follow it. Get a great mentor.

What aspect of your work do you enjoy the most?

WEISS: I really enjoy having a group made up of scientists, engineers, and clinicians from chemistry, biochemistry, physics, math, bioengineering, electrical engineering, materials science, neuroscience, oncology, etc. where we teach other languages and approaches, and share what we see as key, especially refractory, problems. I like posing or having experts in related fields pose these problems and then trying to come up with new approaches to them. I feel that we can do what others cannot because we have all these perspectives and we then argue over what would matter the most if we were able to do it. The result is that we often go into the unknown and that is where, in my experience, we make new discoveries and open up new worlds.

I also very much enjoy teaching my freshman chemistry classes and keep up with many of the students I have taught over the years.

KHADEMHOSSEINI: I like the interactions that I have with my students and colleagues. Also, I love to always push myself to accomplish more.

Learn more about Paul Weiss and Ali Khademhosseini.


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