Todd Rider

Senior Staff

Group 81: Chemical, Biological, and Nanoscale Technologies

I've always been willing to go beyond my comfort zone, but I think Lincoln Laboratory has been willing to go beyond its comfort zone, and that's been very encouraging.

Initially, I worked on missile defense problems in the Systems and Analysis Group (106), yet I was very interested in doing biology research. I had done a lot of studies in grad school and worked at a biotech start-up before coming here. I knew that the Lab built sensors for the military and I figured that I would build a military sensor that uses biology. After about three months, I came up with the CANARY concept for detecting pathogens.

I switched to the High-Speed Electronics Group (84), which became the Biosensor and Molecular Technologies Group, and later split off to become the Chemical, Biological and Nanoscale Technologies Group (81). Working with many other people, we've really achieved something great: a pathogen sensor that is much faster, more sensitive, more specific than anything else that is out there.

Before CANARY, Lincoln was essentially an engineering lab with no wet biology. Yet they were very supportive of the CANARY concept and willing to build a biology lab and give me Advanced Concepts Committee funding. Lincoln's willingness to support research, particularly by having internal funding for new ideas, has been very important. You don't see that in many other locations in academia or industry.

Lincoln has a history of supporting longer-term research. Things like radar, lasers, solid-state physics, and integrated circuits took years to research, develop, and optimize, and Lincoln was willing to put in the time to do that.

I had been a summer student at Lincoln and saw it as something of an intermediate between pure academia and pure industry that has many of the strengths of both. In academia, you can work on long-term research but it is generally not applied. So professors will study some basic science problem for years and decades and build their whole careers on that. In industry, the work is very applied, but, especially in recent years, there's been a pressure to have a product to sell in six months or a year or two years. I feel that Lincoln is the best of both cultures: a longer-term research focus but interest in different applications.

I am also very proud of the Laboratory's educational outreach program. With support from the Director's Office, we were able to start the Science on Saturday and classroom outreach programs in early 2006. We reach about 10,000 students per year and I think we may do a lot of good, too. Lincoln's willingness to invest so much money, time, and effort in outreach would, I think, be beyond the comfort zone of many other places.

I'm keenly interested in education and not even just as a good neighborly thing to do. I see it as a national security problem. Lincoln is designed to care about national security and clearly the U.S. has to be competitive with other nations in terms of what the average person in the population understands and how many scientists and engineers they produce and how well educated they are. I think it's a very important problem that has been largely neglected over the years. I certainly can't solve the problem, but I want to do everything I can to help and encourage other people at the Lab to volunteer.

I am Todd Rider. I am Lincoln Laboratory.