Professor Kenneth Suslick FRSC
Winner: 2021 Analytical Division open Award: Theophilus Redwood Award
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
For the invention and development of the optoelectronic nose and important contributions to artificial olfaction as an analytical technique.
Celebrate Professor Kenneth Suslick
Professor Suslick invented, developed and commercialised the 'optoelectronic nose', a simple but highly effective technology for the detection of toxic gases, identification of complex odorants, and the rapid diagnosis of disease based on smell. Olfaction is exceptionally important and often the dominant sense for most animals, but is woefully underappreciated by us humans. Developing a technology that can provide quantitative olfactory-like information is therefore especially important.
Suslick’s solution is a clever digital, multidimensional extension of litmus paper. Disposable arrays of printed spots of different dyes change colours depending on the odour to which they are exposed. The pattern of the colour change is a unique fingerprint that can identify dangerous gases, recognise bacterial infections, or even tell one single-malt scotch from another. This 'smell-seeing' has proven itself for personal dosimetry of toxic gas exposure (a 'radiation badge' for the chemical workplace), for rapid identification of cultured bacteria and fungi (for diagnosis of blood sepsis), and for disease diagnosis through breath analysis (with clinical trials for both lung cancer diagnosis and pulmonary infections).
Beyond his scientific discoveries and fundamental research, Professor Suslick also co-founded iSense Systems LLC and Specific Diagnostics Inc (located in Silicon Valley) for the commercialisation of this novel technology.Read winner biography
Professor Kenneth S Suslick is the Marvin T Schmidt Research Professor of Chemistry at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). He joined UIUC after completing his BS at Caltech in 1974 and his PhD at Stanford in 1978. Professor Suslick is the recipient of both the Joel H Hildebrand and Nobel Laureate Signature Awards of the American Chemical Society, the Centenary Prize and the Sir George Stokes Medal of the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Materials Research Society Medal, the Helmholtz-Rayleigh Silver Medal of the Acoustical Society of America, the Chemical Pioneer Award of the American Institute of Chemists, and Sloan and Guggenheim Fellowships. He is a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, AAAS, ACS, APS, MRS, RSC, and ASA. He was also the George Eastman Professor at the University of Oxford (2018–2019).
Professor Suslick's two major research areas are the chemical effects of ultrasound (which includes nanomaterials synthesis and sonoluminescence) and chemical sensing (specifically, his invention of the optoelectronic nose for the identification of VOCs, toxic gases, etc). He has published more than 420 scientific papers, edited four books, and holds 58 patents and patent applications.
In addition to his academic research, Professor Suslick has had significant entrepreneurial experience. He was the lead consultant for the team that commercialised the first echo contrast agent for medical sonography. He was also the founding consultant for VivoRx and co-inventor of Abraxane™, the predominant delivery system for taxol chemotherapy for breast cancer. He co-founded iSense and Specific Diagnostics located in Silicon Valley, which began the commercialisation of the Suslick group's optoelectronic nose technology.
How did you first become interested in chemistry?
My 11th birthday gift was a Gilbert chemistry set. I was fascinated at least as much by the glassware as by the chemicals.
Who or what has inspired you?
My first inspirators were Carl Clader, my high school chemistry teacher at New Trier East, and a very young Professor Tom Pinnavaia during a summer high school programme at Michigan State University. During my time at Caltech, Fred Anson and Bob Bergman taught me how to think like a scientist. And my PhD mentors at Stanford, John Brauman and Jim Collman, put me on the path to academia.
What has been a highlight for you (either personally or in your career)?
My year at Balliol College, University of Oxford, as the George Eastman Professor, 2018–2019. This return to Oxford (I had spent a sabbatical, 35 years ago, with Malcolm Green) was such a delight and productive as well: in collaboration with Constantin Coussios and the Oxford Institute for Biomedical Engineering, we have five patents pending.
What has been a challenge for you (either personally or in your career)?
Many scientists have difficulty controlling their egos, and it’s a challenge for me as well. Ego is a house cat. It's nice to stroke, but watch out for the claws; it needs feeding often, and heaven help you if it gets out the front door.
What does good research culture look like/mean to you?
Supportive, creative, blind to colour, ethnicity or gender, demanding but fair and non-punitive. Students need to be given as much independence as they and the project can handle. My goal has always been to train independent research scientists, and they cannot become such if I micromanage them or if I benignly neglect them. It is a dynamic process: students (and projects) need more or less close supervision at different times during their career.