Joseph M. DeSimone

Born: May 16, 1964 | Norristown, PA, US

Joseph DeSimone is now the Director of the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at UNC. He attended Ursinus College for undergraduate and was recruited by Virginia Polytechnic Institute for graduate school. The University of North Carolina persuaded him to join their faculty where he began work with supercritical fluids. He became the first Kenan Professor of Chemical Engineering at North Carolina State University, eventually establishing an NSF Science and Technology Center. His next interest was supercritical CO2, with which he replaced water to manufacture surfactants. DeSimone found further use for supercritical CO2, producing bioabsorbable stents with Richard Stack. He met Stephen Quake and changed the direction of the STC from CO2 to more microfluidics, inventing “liquid Teflon.” He and his students invented PRINT (Particle Replication in Non-Wetting Templates), developing uniform colloidal particles for the delivery of nucleic acids and medicines, and founded, Liquidia Technologies. Because of PRINT’s nanotechnology DeSimone was asked to establish the Carolina Center for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence. DeSimone established the Institute for Advanced Materials, Nanoscience, and Technology, increasing knowledge in medicine and energy.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0701
No. of pages: 83
Minutes: 222

Interview Sessions

David J. Caruso and Jody A. Roberts
1 and 2 May 2013
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Abstract of Interview

Joseph DeSimone began his childhood in Norristown, Pennsylvania, one of three children. His father, an Italian immigrant, was a tailor; his mother was an accountant; there was a large Italian extended family. DeSimone attended St. Teresa of Avila Elementary School; when not in school he and friends were outside playing. Education was important in the family. The children attended the Catholic school until about junior high school, when the family moved to Collegeville, Pennsylvania. DeSimone was in gifted classes. High school brought discovery of programming and interest in solar architecture. He had typical science classes and labs, but in summer he was selected for a Lebanon Valley College project. He also attended Ursinus College for math classes, resulting in a scholarship to Ursinus.

At Ursinus, DeSimone felt academically challenged for the first time. He conceived a love for polymers and was recruited by Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech) for graduate school. After his PhD he intended to return to Philadelphia, but University of North Carolina persuaded him to join their faculty. There he began work with supercritical fluids. He published many papers, obtained grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Office of Naval Research, and was granted tenure early. He became the first Kenan Professor of Chemical Engineering at North Carolina State University, eventually establishing an NSF Science and Technology Center. His next interest was supercritical CO2, with which he replaced water to manufacture surfactants. He won a Presidential Green Chemistry Award; founded dry cleaning soap company, Micell Technologies; and developed dry cleaning equipment. DeSimone found further use for supercritical CO2, producing bioabsorbable stents with Richard Stack, and founding another company, whose stents are in clinical trials around the world. He met Stephen Quake and changed the direction of the STC from CO2 to more microfluidics, inventing “liquid Teflon,” then molds. He and his students invented PRINT (Particle Replication in Non-Wetting Templates), which allowed them to make uniform colloidal particles for the delivery of nucleic acids and medicines, and founded, Liquidia Technologies.

DeSimone established the Institute for Advanced Materials, Nanoscience, and Technology, increasing knowledge in medicine and energy. Because of PRINT’s nanotechnology DeSimone was asked to establish the Carolina Center for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence, using funding from the National Cancer Institute. He is affiliated with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. He has been elected to National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. He is now the Director of the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at UNC.

DeSimone concludes his interview with some general thoughts. He says his wife and son are his present mentors; he credits earlier mentoring and friendship from Chad Mirkin, Robert Langer, and Edward Samulski. He says he is currently working on grants and renewals.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1986 Ursinus College BS Chemistry
1990 Virginia Polytechnic Institute PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

1990 to 1994
Assistant Professor of Chemistry
1995
Mary Ann Smith Associate Professor of Chemistry
1996 to 1999
Mary Ann Smith Professor of Chemistry
1999 to 2008
William R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Chemistry
2003 to 2012
Founding Director, Institute for Advanced Materials, Nanoscience and Technology
2005 to 2018
Faculty Member, Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and Department of Pharmacology, School of Medicine
2005 to 2018
Co-PI, Carolina Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence
2008 to 2018
Founding Director, Institute for Nanomedicine at UNC-CH
2008 to 2018
Chancellor's Eminent Professor of Chemistry at UNC
2012 to 2013
Director, Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, Kenan Flagler Business School

North Carolina State University at Raleigh

1995 to 1996
Mary Ann Smith Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering
1996 to 1999
Mary Ann Smith Professor of Chemical Engineering
1999 to 2008
William R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

2010 to 2018
Adjunt Member

Honors

Year(s) Award
1992

National Science Foundation Young Investigator, Division of Materials Research

1993

Philip and Ruth Hettleman Prize for Artistic and Scholarly Achievement

1993

Presidential Faculty Fellow Award, National Science Foundation

1995

Finalist, Discovery Award for Technological Innovation

1995

Charles H. Stone Award

1995

Waldo Semon Award Lecturer, University of Akron

1997

Chancellor’s Award for Excellence

1997

Governor’s Award for Excellence

1997

Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award

1998

R&D Award with Micell Technologies

1998 to 2001

Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship

1999

Honorary Doctorate of Science from Ursinus College

1999

Carl S. Marvel Creative Polymer Chemistry Award

1999

Fresenius Award of the Phi Lambda Upsilon Honorary Chemical Society

2000

Oliver Max Gardner Award from the University of North Carolina

2001

Outstanding Young Alumnus Award from the Virginia Tech Alumni Association

2001

Esselen Award

2001

Governor's Entrepreneurial Company of the Year Award for Micell Technologies

2001

Inventor of the Year Award from the Triangle Intellectual Property Law Association

2001

Ernst & Young 2001 Entrepreneur of the Year in Technology (Carolinas)

2002

Wallace H. Carothers Award from the Delaware Section of the American Chemical Society

2002

Engineering Excellence Award by DuPont

2002

John Scott Award presented by the City Trusts, Philadelphia

2005

American Chemical Society Award for Creative Invention

2005

Entrepreneurial Excellence Award for Life Science Spin-out of the Year for Liquidia Technologies

2005

Member of the National Academy of Engineering

2005

Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

2006

Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS)

2006

H.F. Whalen, Jr. Award for Entrepreneurship by ACS Division of Business Development & Management

2006

Elected, College of Fellows, American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering

2007

Collaboration Success Award from The Council for Chemical Research

2008

Inductee into the Order of the Golden Fleece

2008

Business Leader Magazine’s 2007/2008 Impact Entrepreneur of the Year for the Triangle

2008

Named one of the “One Hundred Engineers of the Modern Era” by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers

2008

Tar Heel of the Year, Raleigh News & Observer

2008

Recipient of the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize

2009

Alexander M. Cruickshank Award, Gordon Research Conferences

2009

Distinguished Graduate Alumni Achievement Award, Virginia Tech

2009

North Carolina Award

2009

NIH Director’s Pioneer Award

2009

Tar Heel of the Year, Undergraduates at the school newspaper selection of the Person of the Year

2010

Founding POLY Fellow, Division of Polymer Chemistry, American Chemical Society

2010

AAAS Mentor Award

2011

PMSE Fellow, Division of Polymeric Material Science and Engineering, American Chemical Society

2011

Harrison Howe Award by the Rochester Section of the American Chemical Society

2011

Mendel Medal from Villanova University

2012

Chair, Gordon Research Conference on Drug Carriers in Medicine and Biology

2012

Fellow, American Chemical Society

2012

Walston Chubb Award for Innovation, presented by Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society

2012

Named a Paul Harris Fellow by the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International

2012

Member of the National Academy of Sciences

2013

National Academy of Inventors

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Family life. Education. Move. Developing passion for science. Sports. Work. Hobbies. High school sweetheart.

College and Graduate School Years
14

Ursinus College; major chemistry. Ronald Hess,  Ray Schultz, and Victor Tortorelli. Labs. Polymers. James McGrath and Virginia Tech recruitment. Plans for industrial polymer chemistry. Marriage. Move to Blacksburg, Virginia. Adjustment to graduate school. Summer internships, Bellcore and ARCO. Work on e-beam resists for computer chips. Obtained PhD. Jobs interviews.

Beginning at University of North Carolina
27

Offer from UNC. Edward Samulski’s work. Work and family. Composition of first lab. Learning to write successful grants. Early tenure.  Kenan Professorship. Supercritical fluids, Val Krukonis, and CO2. Patents.

Entering Commercial World
43

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Solvent replacement for tetrafluoroethylene (TFE). Presidential Green Chemistry Award. Surfactants. Micell Technologies. Rollie Tillman, Jr.; Allen Mebane; Kenneth Langone. Business decisions. Richard Stack and Bill Starling. Bioabsorbable stent business. DARPA, microfluidics, Stephen Quake. Invention of “liquid Teflon”. Changed direction at STC. Invention of PRINT; Liquidia Technologies. Increased interest in life sciences.

Institute for Advanced Materials, Nanoscience, and Technology
66

Scholarly pursuits. Competition for funding. Expansion goals. Faculty member of Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and co-PI, Carolina Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence James Bear, Shelton Earp, Rudolph Juliano. National Cancer Institute. Collaborations. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center for nanomedicine. National Academy of Sciences.

Current Work
73

Liquidia changes; new CEO, Neal Fowler; vaccines. Obtained Gates Foundation money. Respiratory products for GlaxoSmithKlein; ophthalmology and oncology. Director of Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at UNC.

General Thoughts
82

Wife and son his present mentors. Son’s own business. Earlier mentoring and friendship from Chad Mirkin, Robert Langer, and Edward Samulski. New printer company with Samulski. Family life. Inspiration by example. Success from hard work, excellent assistance in labs. Working on grants and renewals.

Index
87

About the Interviewer

David J. Caruso

David J. Caruso earned a BA in the history of science, medicine, and technology from Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and a PhD in science and technology studies from Cornell University in 2008. Caruso is the director of the Center for Oral History at the Science History Institute, president of Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region, and editor for the Oral History Review. In addition to overseeing all oral history research at the Science History Institute, he also holds an annual training institute that focuses on conducting interviews with scientists and engineers, he consults on various oral history projects, like at the San Diego Technology Archives, and is adjunct faculty at the University of Pennsylvania, teaching courses on the history of military medicine and technology and on oral history.  His current research interests are the discipline formation of biomedical science in 20th-century America and the organizational structures that have contributed to such formation.

Jody A. Roberts

Jody A. Roberts is the Director of the Institute for Research at the Science History Institute. He received his PhD and MS in Science and Technology Studies from Virginia Tech and holds a BS in chemistry from Saint Vincent College. His research focuses on the intersections of regulation, innovation, environmental issues, and emerging technologies within the chemical sciences.