Kirsty Young's castaway is the scientist Dr Robert Langer. Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he is the most cited engineer in history, and was awarded the prestigious US medals of both Science and of Technology and Innovation. A pioneer of many new technologies including controlled release drug delivery systems and nanotechnology, Langer is also regarded as the founder of tissue engineering in regenerative medicine where synthetic structures are used to provide the scaffolding on which new skin, muscle, bone and potentially entire organs can be grown.
Born in Albany, New York, in 1948, Langer's interest in science was kindled by the Gilbert chemistry, microscope and building sets he was given as birthday presents by his parents. He studied chemical engineering at Cornell University before getting his Doctor of Science from MIT in 1974. His enthusiasm wasn't fired up by the many job offers from oil companies he received, preferring to apply to work in the medical sector. After many unsuccessful applications, he was hired by Dr Judah Folkman, a surgeon at Harvard, who tasked Langer with isolating a compound to restrict blood vessel growth in order to stop a tumour from growing. His work at the interface of medicine and engineering led to him being awarded the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering in 2015. He attributes his success to "a combination of stubbornness, risk taking, perhaps being reasonably smart and wanting to do good".
Producer: Christine Pawlowsky.