Google Is on the Hunt for Synthetic Chemists

Help make the search giant’s nanomedicine dreams come true.

Michael Byrne

Michael Byrne

​Image: Google synthetic skin. Image: YouTube

Do you have expertise and hands-on experience in synthetic organic chemistry, and a doctorate degree? If so, you may be exactly what Google is looking for, according to a recent Google Life Sciences job posting. The opening isn't quite as odd as it may at first sound.

In recent months, Google's push into biotechnology has steadily progressed from secret to open-secret to very public operation. Google's life sciences interest has taken two forms: as an investor via Google Ventures—with investees including 23andme, Arthur Levinson's California Life Sciences, and Foundation Medicine, among others—and as a growing research hub.

The latter comes under the umbrella of Google X, the corporation's semi-secret lab dedicated to "science fiction-sounding solutions," in the words of its director, Astro Teller. It's here that Google's self-driving car technology started, while other efforts include Project Loon (providing internet service via stratospheric balloons), Project Wing (drone delivery), Google Glass (you know), and contact lenses that monitor blood glucose, among others.

In January, the Atlantic was allowed to document the Google X facility in a video, a first:

Last summer, Google X announced its deepest foray into the biotech/health world yet with the Baseline Study. The program will follow 10,000 volunteers for two to three years, analyzing patterns of biochemicals, proteins, genetic mutations, and other measurements and how those relate to the prevalence of different human diseases. It's not a wild idea—another longitudinal study, essentially—but Google thinks it can go deeper by collecting as much biomarker data as physically possible, thus turning human disease into a computational problem.

The Baseline Study is one of a handful of projects specifically under the auspices of Google Life Sciences, at least so far. Building smart contact lenses is another one of those, but there's also the Lifeware spoon, which is designed to counteract tremors in Parkinson's disease patients.

But, as a newly-recruited synthetic chemist, expect your work to somehow involve Google's in-development "nanoparticle platform." This is where tiny metallic particles injected into a patient's bloodstream could more or less replace vast swaths of medicine as we know it, diagnosing illnesses and then treating them, all at scales of around one ten-thousandth the width of a human hair.

"Essentially the idea is simple; you just swallow a pill with the nanoparticles, which are decorated with antibodies or molecules that detect other molecules," explained Andrew Conrad, head of life sciences inside Google's X research lab, in a WSJD Live presentation last summer. "They course through your body and because the cores of these particles are magnetic, you can call them somewhere and ask them what they saw."

So, if working on highly-speculative health-care technology is your dream—nanomedicine is promising, but hardly imminent as Google likes to make it sound—Mountain View beckons.