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Mike Ramsey, a chemistry professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has been 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 the new department of applied physical sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences. He is also affiliated with the joint department of biomedical engineering at UNC and NC State University as well as the Carolina Center for Genome Sciences.

“Mike is an exceptional chemist and inventor whose work is revolutionizing the way we approach and treat cancer and other complex diseases of our time,” says Chancellor Carol L. Folt. “He is more quickly identifying infected cells through less expensive and easier-to-use devices and improving people’s lives. It is enormously gratifying to see him honored with this prestigious award.”

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 smart phones, Ramsey formed tiny conduits or pipes, the width of which are on the scale of the diameter of a human hair or smaller. These are used to transport liquids containing chemicals and biological molecules and to 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 can aid in the diagnosis of disease, 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 and has 94 patents issued in his name. He is the sole scientific founder of Caliper Life Science, a company that produces microfluidic tools primarily for the pharmaceutical and biotech industries. Caliper became a publically traded company in 1999 and was recently acquired by PerkinElmer Corp., a leading analytical instrumentation provider, for $650 million. Ramsey is also the sole scientific founder of 908 Devices Inc., which is commercializing his developments in handheld mass spectrometry.

Ramsey is among 67 new members and 11 foreign associates elected to the National Academy of Engineering this year.

By Thania Benios, University News Services.

Published February 26, 2014.