SCIEX Microscale Separations Innovation Medal Awardee 2019 | Aaron R. Wheeler

The Society for Microscale Separations and Bioanalysis (SMSB) has selected Prof. Aaron R. Wheeler, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Toronto, as the recipient of the 2019 SCIEX Microscale Separations Innovations Medal and Award for Current and Breakthrough Research in the Field of Electro-Driven Separations. The Medal Ceremony took place on Wednesday, March 27, 2019, as part of a Special Award Plenary Session at the 35th International Symposium on Microscale Separations and Bioanalysis (MSB 2019) to be held on the campus of Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon.

Aaron Wheeler earned his Ph.D. in Chemistry at Stanford University in 2003, working with Richard Zare. After a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at UCLA, he joined the Chemistry Department at the University of Toronto (U of T) with a Tier II Canada Research Chair (CRC). At that time (2005), he was cross-appointed to the Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research (DCCBR) and the Institute for Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering (IBBME). He was promoted to Associate and Full Professor in 2010 and 2013, respectively, and in 2018 became the Tier I CRC in Microfluidic Bioanalysis.

In the 13 years since its inception, the Wheeler-lab at the U of T has been internationally recognized for tackling diverse research projects, connected by the theme of using microfluidics to solve problems in chemistry, biology, and medicine. A recent project of note is the group’s efforts to develop a portable system for diagnosing infectious diseases in resource-limited settings. In collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United Nations (UN) Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, a team of four Wheeler-lab members recently returned from the remote Kakuma Refugee Camp in Northwest Kenya (accessible only by UN charter plane twice per week) in a mission to field-test the group’s infectious disease diagnostics. This work is summarized in this 5-minute movie, and was recently published in the AAAS journal, Science Translational Medicine (Sci. Trans. Med. 2018, 10, eaar6076).

Professor Wheeler has been recognized with a long list of awards, a few of which include the Lab on a Chip Pioneers in Miniaturisation Award (2017), a National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) E.W.R. Steacie Fellowship (2015), the Connaught Foundation McLean Fellowship (2014), the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Joseph Black Award (2012), the American Chemical Society’s Arthur F. Findeis Award (2012), the Analytical Chemistry Young Innovator Award (2011), and an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship (2009).

The 35th MSB Symposium looks forward to the 2019 SCIEX award-presentation to be given by Professor Wheeler, who is widely recognized as being an enthusiastic communicator, with interests in non-traditional mechanisms to engage and share with the scientific community and the public at large. For example, the Wheeler group has become interested in the “open source” approach to instrumentation, which entails inventing a new instrument, loading parts lists, control code, and assembly and operation instructions into the public domain, and granting explicit permission to users to use and modify instrumentation in a format that allows collaborative sharing of improvements. Professor Wheeler’s group has built multiple open-source tools; the landing site for these tools registers hundreds of unique hits per week. Likewise, thousands of readers and viewers access the group’s twitter and youtube accounts – see, for example, this whimsical 2-minute video outlining the group’s work developing point-of-care diagnostic devices, or this 1-minute clip about digital microfluidics that was awarded first-prize in the NSERC inaugural Science, Action! competition in 2016.