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As a boy Andreas Manz had an interest in small things.
“I collected insects, moths, butterflies — I realised they had their own energy, their own computing systems,” the Swiss nanoscientist and analytic chemist says. “Engineering is far behind that.”
This early fascination with “chemistry at the micrometre scale” shaped Professor Manz’s career, leading him to invent a millimetre-sized “laboratory-on-a-chip” that has revolutionised diagnostics and led to his winning this year’s European Inventor Award for lifetime achievement.
Professor Manz’s first device, in 1990, merged microelectronics with chemistry to replicate a series of laboratory sequences that once took weeks.
Suddenly, a drop of blood could be analysed in seconds by Prof Manz’s chip, increasing the speed of analysis 100-fold. In time, analysis may be 10,000 times faster.
His work has sparked a wave of innovation — from the continuing development of microsystems for the diagnosis of diseases such as dengue fever, cancer, malaria, HIV and genetic conditions to glucose measurement kits for diabetics, to a USB device that decodes human DNA in minutes.
Prof Manz, is head of the microfluidics group at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology in Saarbrücken, Germany, and a professor of microfluidics for life sciences at Saarland University.