Lee Cronin's lab at the University of Glasgow does cutting-edge research into how complex chemical systems, created from non-biological building blocks, can have real-world applications with wide impact. At TEDGlobal 2012, Cronin shared some of the lab's latest work: creating a 3D printer for molecules. This device -- which has been prototyped -- can download plans for molecules and print them, in the same way that a 3D printer creates objects. In the future, Cronin says this technology could potentially be used to print medicine -- cheaply and wherever it is needed. As Cronin says: "What Apple did for music, I'd like to do for the discovery and distribution of prescription drugs."
At TEDGlobal 2011, Cronin shared his lab's bold plan to create life. At the moment, bacteria is the minimum unit of life -- the smallest chemical unit that can undergo evolution. But in Cronin's emerging field, he's thinking about forms of life that won't be biological. To explore this, and to try to understand how life itself originated from chemicals, Cronin and others are attempting to create truly artificial life from completely non-biological chemistries that mimic the behavior of natural cells. They call these chemical cells, or Chells.
Cronin's research interests also encompass self-assembly and self-growing structures -- the better to assemble life at nanoscale. At the University of Glasgow, this work on crystal structures is producing a raft of papers from his research group. He says: "Basically one of my longstanding research goals is to understand how life emerged on planet Earth and re-create the process."
Read the papers referenced in his TEDGlobal 2102 talk:
Integrated 3D-printed reactionware for chemical synthesis and analysis, Nature Chemistry