PATH at the Museum of Modern Art

March 26, 2008 by PATH

"Lab-on-a-card" diagnostic technology makes Design and the Elastic Mind exhibit
Hand holding the credit card-sized 'lab-on-a-card' diagnostic technology.

This “work of art” diagnostic technology is about the size of a credit card. Photo: PATH/Patrick McKern.

Our white coat–clad laboratory scientists are feeling pretty chic these days, now that one of their technologies, designed to address health problems in poor countries, has been declared a work of art.

The Museum of Modern Art, or MoMA, in New York City is currently highlighting the “lab-on-a-card” technology, under development by PATH and several partners, in an exhibit designed to celebrate the creative process that translates inspiration into idea and product. Design and the Elastic Mind features approximately 130 outstanding objects and prototypes—ranging from products to graphics and environmental designs—designed in the past 6 years and meant for the next 60. Given that context, the lab-on-a-card doesn’t seem so out of place. It may one day help health workers accurately diagnose patients in even the most remote locations.

If doctors can’t correctly diagnose a disease, how can they treat it? That’s what families are left to wonder in millions of villages, towns, and cities around the world that lack ready access to health care and the sophisticated laboratories that produce reliable diagnoses in wealthy countries. Fortunately, there is an array of promising new tests in the pipeline—inexpensive, portable, easy-to-use diagnostics that are practical at even small, local health centers, delivering results the same day.

The lab-on-a-card is—or one day will be—just such a test. It’s a credit card–sized piece of plastic that is riddled with tiny channels and chambers filled with the chemicals and reagents needed to translate a stool or blood sample into a diagnosis. Inject a sample into one end and place the card in a small, portable device that provides a little extra agitation and pretty soon—in less than 20 minutes, in most cases—the clinician knows what to treat and how.

To apply this technology to several different diseases, we're collaborating with both private companies and the public sector, including Micronics, Inc., the designer and developer of the card itself; Nanogen; the University of Washington; Washington University; and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Read more about lab-on-a-card and other easy-to-use diagnostic tests developed just for low-resource settings.

Among the other items in the MoMA exhibit:

  • From schools and universities, projects that explore the design possibilities of bone and tissue harvesting, biomimetics, and other advanced technologies.
  • Examples of successful synthesis and visualization of great quantities of data, scientific or otherwise, including a redesign of the periodic table.
  • Design experiments in response to the latest studies about sleeping patterns.
  • Experiments of augmented perception and sensorial stimulation, from biomechatronics to telepresence.
  • Designs for space stations and orbital flight cabins.
  • Examples of collective design and open source, all the way through their application in developing countries.

The exhibit runs at MoMA through May 12 in the North Gallery on the 6th floor. For more information, visit

Posted March 26, 2008.