PEOPLE | THNK is publishing a series of creative leader profiles to draw attention to inspiring people who have championed breakthrough innovation. This week, Michelle Khine (Founder of Shrink Nanotechnologies) is in the spotlight for re-purposing her favorite childhood toy to make medical diagnoses cheaper, faster and more accessible for scientists, researchers and medical practitioners around the world.
"Whenever I get a crazy idea, I still go into the kitchen to mess around on anything lab-related, creative-related, or food-related."
- Michelle Khine in interview with FastCompany
Michelle Khine has given meaning to the popular saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention”. In 2006, she was hired as a researcher at the newly built University of California campus at Merced. Tight on equipment and resources but determined to innovate around developing chip-based diagnostic tests, she had an “aha” moment.
Using Shrinky Dinks, her favourite childhood toy, she created designs out of the toy’s sheets of plastic and baked them in a toaster oven. These later became molds for microfluidic chips made of polymer. For those of you who aren't familiar with the popular toy from the 1980's: Shrinky Dinks are sheets of plastic, you can draw on, cut out, and put in the oven. They shrink to small hard plates without altering their color or shape.
The result: a low tech, cheap and fast way to perform diagnostic tests for HIV and other diseases right at a patient’s bedside. Michelle’s technique eliminates the need for multi-million dollar equipment and makes important technology accessible to labs of all sizes and developing countries. See how the process works.
Oprah Magazine recently gave her props. It named her “The Reinventor” and recognized her as someone “whose knack for innovation has helped them make astonishing things”.
THNK considers Michelle a creative leader. Instead of accepting the expensive status quo, she tapped into her childhood experiences to come up with a technology that is not necessarily original but undoubtedly game-changing.