In fact, Dr. DeSimone focuses on mentorship with students specifically to help advance diversity in the chemistry workforce, and was awarded the AAAS Mentor Award in 2010 in recognition of his efforts. As a first generation college student himself, Dr. DeSimone said he recognizes the importance of bringing together a diverse team of individuals, “recognizing that we learn the most from those that we have the least in common with.”
“You start realizing that the kid on your team that maybe grew up with not much money [has] ideas driven by that experience,” he said. “You have somebody else that grew up with a lot of money and their ideas are driven by that experience. Their ideas are very different and contribute a lot to the fabric of the emerging idea. You start to realize that that breadth of experience, that breadth of disciplines, that breadth of cultural differences drives innovation. Diversity is a fundamental tenet of innovation.”
In a way, Dr. DeSimone experienced that diversity firsthand when he first began working in nanomedicine, the application of tailored nanotechnology in a healthcare setting. With the help of nanotechnology, scientists have been able to develop new ways to study, diagnose, treat, and prevent certain medical conditions using nano-sized particles specifically designed to seek out and stop cells harming the body.
Dr. DeSimone first branched out into the nanomedicine field through a connection at the University of North Carolina’s School of Medicine who was interested in gene therapy, a technique that uses genes to treat certain conditions.
“For most of my career I was not doing anything with medicine,” he said. His colleague, Rudy Juliano, was running into issues delivering particular genetic materials and reached out to Dr. DeSimone – an expert in polymer science – because others in the field were using polymers as a delivery method.
Together, the two developed a more sophisticated method called Particle Replication in Non-wetting Templates, or PRINT. The PRINT technology allows researchers to control the size, shape and overall composition of the nanoparticles used.
This collaboration spawned a new venture for Dr. DeSimone – Liquidia Technologies – a company built around his work in nanomedicine, focusing on three areas: developing nanoparticles used in inhalable therapeutics and vaccines, and nanoparticles that could be used to treat cancer.
Similarly, Dr. DeSimone said he started down the path toward beginning another company – Carbon – when a postdoctoral student approached him about applications of his work in 3D printing. After researching existing patents and examining the methods other companies were using to print, the two decided to move in a different direction. Rather than printing layer by layer, they would print continuously, using liquids followed by light to solidify the imaging. All of this, he said, was nailed down within the span of a few afternoons.