Photo of John D. Baldeschwieler

John D. Baldeschwieler

  • National Medal of Science
  • Chemistry

For his imaginative development of new methods for determining the properties, structures, motions and interactions of molecules and molecular assemblies, the translation of these advances into practical pharmaceutical and instrumentation products for the public benefit, and extensive service to his government and the scientific community.

John Baldeschwieler on serendipity

John D. Baldeschwieler is as much as a scientist as he is an entrepreneur. Baldeschwieler’s research includes molecular structure, spectroscopy and microscopy.

Baldeschwieler’s chemistry research led to a number of advancements in scanning probe techniques to observe molecules, as well as a method similar to the way an ink-jet printer works to create an array of nucleic acids and polymers. The technique could be applied to create new form of sequencing and diagnostics. His work turned into Vestar, a startup he created in 1981 at the California Institute of Technology.

“At Caltech, we learned how to build tiny spherical membrane shells that were made out of the same material as human cell membranes,” he told The LA Times. “Then it occurred to us that this might have some applications in diagnostic and therapeutic medicine.”

Since then, Baldeschwieler has established another five companies, and now teaches a course at Caltech based off the entrepreneurial lessons he’s learned along the way.

“I thought of everything that happened to me in going through the formation of Vestar, and that turned out to be the syllabus,” he said. “We have marketing, intellectual property issues, how to form a company, venture capital financing, basic accounting and corporate governance.”

By Christine Ayala