Tuan Vo-Dinh

Diagnostic and Therapeutic Technologies

Tuan Vo-Dinh is a scientist and inventor, who specializes in diagnostic tools in the field of photonics, the physical science of light. Vo-Dinh was among the first to combine the recognition power of nature (e.g. antibodies) with light-based sensing technologies to develop powerful devices called biosensors. 

Vo-Dinh was born on April 11, 1948 in Nha Trang, Vietnam. Like many famous inventors, he built his own toys as a boy. At the age of 17, he moved to Switzerland, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1971 and a doctorate in biophysical chemistry in 1975, both from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. That same year, Vo-Dinh immigrated to the U.S. He researched at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and served as director of the Center for Advanced Biomedical Photonics. He was also a professor at the University of California and the University of Tennessee (Knoxville). In 2006, Vo-Dinh joined the faculty of Duke University, where he is currently a professor in biomedical engineering and chemistry and director of the Fitzpatrick Institute for Photonics. 

As a researcher, Vo-Dinh has invented a number of life-saving devices which detect and diagnose diseases, defects, and toxins by optical scanning (using lasers and fiber optics) rather than biopsy (the removal of bodily tissue for analysis). Vo-Dinh's first patents, granted in 1987, were for a small, easy-to-make badge that when worn on a worker's shirt, recorded the extent and type of any exposure to toxic chemicals. At the end of the workday, an optical scanner would read the badge and give warning of any potential danger. For the medical field, Vo-Dinh has invented similar detection systems for damaged DNA, diabetes, and cancer. These systems relied on the synchronous luminescence (SL) methodology that he made practicable. Because data is recorded, displayed and read optically, one's health can be monitored without medical procedure.  

Vo-Dinh's Drawing for the SERS molecular probe
Vo-Dinh's Drawing for the SERS molecular probe

Vo-Dinh’s current research is focused on the development of advanced technologies for the protection of the environment and the improvement of human health. His research activities involve biophotonics, nanoplasmonics, nanosensors, laser spectroscopy, molecular imaging, medical diagnostics, cancer detection and therapy, theranostics, chemical sensors, biosensors, and biochips. 

Vo-Dinh has earned numerous patents for his work and his technology has been licensed by medical and environmental companies. His techniques are used by research organizations such as the National Cancer Institute and at hospitals throughout the U.S. Vo-Dinh has received many accolades for his transformative work. These include being named Scientist of the Year at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 1992, receiving the Lockheed Martin Commercialization Award in 1998, being elected into the National Academy of Inventors in 2017, and receiving the Sir George Stokes Award from the Royal Society of Chemistry in 2019.