David A. Edwards

health scientist & Harvard professor


Food or drink available in edible packaging. Flavourful cocktails whose alcohol content evaporates before consumption and which are sucked out of the design jar through a straw. Individual text messages with aroma, sent by smartphone, whose scent the recipient can reconstruct via an iPad app using a separate device. Three examples that do not come from science fiction but are reality already. These revolutionary creations were realised by David A. Edwards and his team. He is a multi-awards winning bioengineer, scientist, mathematician, chemist, artist, writer and since 2002 Harvard professor plus TIME’s two time “inventor of the year”.

David A. Edwards

health scientist & Harvard professor


David A. Edwards
David A. Edwards | © Wayne Chinnock

The American (* 6 April 1961, Ann Arbor/Michigan) has had a stellar career. In the early Eighties, he studied chemical engineering at Michigan Technological University and received his doctorate in 1987. After teaching positions, among others in Israel, Edwards did research in the medical field and sold his patent for an asthma spray in 1999. Instead of retiring with the 114 million US dollars, the youngest member of the National Academy Of Engineering uses the money to work independently and on his own. He is committed to combining science, art, humanism and design with commercial viability and, at the same time, real benefits for humanity. Particularly close to his heart, who is also involved in non-profit organisations, is inventing the food of the future as well as replacing plastic packaging with - ideally - consumable casings made of ecological, vitamin-rich materials. To turn his visions into reality, Edwards founded ArtScience Labs. The mixture of laboratory, think tank, lecture hall and - in Paris - museum or restaurant (in the Boston suburb of Cambridge) is vividly presented in his book 'The Lab: Creativity and Culture'. 

At the US branch the usually casually dressed academic, together with chemist John Lamppa presented the novel WikiPearls at the launch of the company WikiFoods Inc. in 2010: golf ball-sized balls filled with soup, ice cream or compote, encased in a hermetically sealing edible shell. Some US supermarkets spontaneously included this first product from the WikiCell series in their assortment.

AeroLife, on the other hand, is a range of food supplements. The calorie- and sugar-free powder, available in various flavours, is inhaled through the mouth via a lipstick-shaped and -sized device; depending on the composition, it either provides energy, has an immune-boosting effect, promotes athletic performance or allows consumers to enjoy coffee or chocolate.

Edward's bar/restaurant Café ArtScience (named after the annual innovation prize he organises) offers the perfect opportunity to test the latest innovations. Among other things, his futuristic carafe Le Whaf is there. It transforms drinks into smoke by means of microwaves. The taste of a cocktail is fully preserved, but the alcohol content is minimal.

Next to the Café ArtScience is the Memory laboratory, a think tank for the 16 Harvard students he takes in each year. Here, creativity is also encouraged on as many levels as possible. David A. Edwards, who wrote the manifesto 'Artscience: Creativity in the Post-Google Generation', knows: "Creative people carry both the artistic and the scientific in them. Science is intuitive, imaginative. It shows artistic aspects, but at the same time it is extremely ethical, methodical, logical. As a discipline, however, it combines well to find solutions to problems."

The adjacent Boston is home of another venture of this visionary, forward-thinking health scientist: Incredible Foods. According to the homepage of this company, it focuses on Nature Designed Food: „We use the best of science and nature to connect people to the food they want in a sustainable and convenient format. Our clean, plant-based technology platform is based on the concept of a natural identical fruit.“

The second interdisciplinary research site of Mr. Edwards, who was awarded the order Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture for his publications, is located in the heart of Paris: Le Laboratoire. The epicentre for art, design and scientific experimentation, the concept of which is incorporated in his novella 'Niche', brings together researchers and creatives of all stripes - from music to visual arts to gastronomy. Their aim is to create something innovative through interaction. Exemplary for these collaborations across borders: WikiWater. Enclosed in a stretchable, ecological, airtight shell, the container called The Pumpkin can hold 15 litres, facilitates liquid transport and avoids plastic waste - an invention primarily intended for widespread use in developing countries.

David Edwards’ 2020 invention is called FEND. According to TIME magazine, this airway hydration product is “a drug-free salt- and calcium-based nasal mist that strengthens the mucus lining, helping it trap and flush out tiny pathogens. In a preliminary study, people who used FEND exhaled about 75% fewer aerosol particles than those who didn’t, suggesting it could be a worthy addition to the disease-­prevention arsenal, along with handwashing, masking and social distancing.“

Given the range of his work, it is hardly surprising that some journalists have compared David A. Edwards to Willy Wonka, the ingenious company owner in Roald Dahl's classic children's book 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' (turned into a popular movie by Tim Burton, starring Johnny Depp). Mr. Edwards lives with his wife and three sons in Paris and Boston. In his free time, the creative adventurer and free thinker can often be found on his Nordhavn trawler yacht in the harbour of the capital of the US state of Massachusetts.


Interview November 2015

Visionary inventor: redesigning food and products in the health space


Where does it come from?

Experience largely. There seem to be deeper sources, related to our genetic makeup, and to sensory memories, as in smells, but for the most part our intuition comes from the many things we see, feel, sense in a life, most of which we never cognitively analyze, perhaps little of which we even consciously notice. Our brains pick these things up, fortunately, as, relative to all the things we think we know, these former are probably the more important reason for our survival.

How spontaneous is intuition?

Very. But there are things that we -- who spend so much of our lives creating -- do to keep our minds attuned to intuition. We place ourselves in surprising situations, ones where there is so much new information facing us, and information that actually interests us, so that we cannot possibly hope to understand. Some of our best insights come in these circumstances.

A deadline without intuition?

I don't worry about it. I am at a point where I don't place myself in situations where I am not inspired, and when I find myself in ones where this is the case, I walk away and don't look back. 

Amateurs wait for inspiration?

I think it's true that professional creators work very hard. I also think it's true that much of what passes as a creative life is really quite repetitive. True creators do work very hard, and yet part of their creative process spawns the sparks of intuition that others might climb a mountain and squat to summon. 

How to differ good from bad?

I don't judge at first. I take it all in. And I ask any idea to perform, in a way, and the bad ideas fall aside, very naturally, and the good ideas march ahead, so the ideas ultimately tell you everything.

Do I write down an idea right away?

Well, actually good ideas are so gnawing, so absorptive of my attention, that I will generally lose sleep over them until they have formed to such an extent that they get expressed, usually in writing, yes.

Do I feel the "big"?

Yes. I only am interested in big ideas now. I was once very interested in just having an idea, providing that I could have ideas and have them matter to others as much as they did to me. 


Starts with yearning?

Yes, I call it dream, and passion, but yearning is a good word.

Is it magic/fun or torture?

A little of both. Those who are creative, and who cannot imagine living another way, don't have much choice in it, and it is the best possible world they live in. But viewed from the outside it does sometimes look quite awful, and other times like a party.

Process from idea to realization?

It is a series of experiments:  You know nothing. Then you think you know something. Then you know nothing again. And you inch along, getting closer and closer to the dream realization.

How do you force creativity?

There is an environment that facilities creativity. Conditions. These are roughly those of a creative adolescence -- an ability to have the long-term vision, a security, in one sense, and an anxiety in another, a sense that anything is possible (we can become a doctor, or an artist, or a banker or whatever we wish) ... on the other hand we do not have a clue 'who we are.' Assuming this environment exists (and it is created by family, friends, work place, etc - ultimately I created ‘Le Laboratoire’ to frame this personally), what most "forces creativity" is a flow of ideas that are picked up and considered. We want to be in a place where ideas are flying back and forth. And some of these go on to become realized ideas, so we enter the idea flow.

Am I in a trance?

Sort of, yes. In my most creative times I am often most forgetful.

What leads in the creative process: craftsmanship or spontaneity?

If we define the process as ideation/translation/realization -- that is the entire process from genesis of a first idea to realization of an evolved idea, then both matter. Ideas evolve over this time frame by hops, from hypothesis to results/discoveries to hypotheses to results etc. And in those transitions from results to hypotheses, i.e. in the "blank page" moments of creative process, spontaneity, intuition, matter greatly. Craftsmanship is the game in the trajectory from hypothesis to result.

Is it good to be ahead of your time?

Yes and no. It is painful to be ahead of your time. I find it most rewarding however if I can have multiple ideas, some ahead, some timely, and be able to endure until the world catches up with my furthest-out ideas, and then it is satisfying, and finally the world benefits. We need some of us thinking about the day-after-tomorrow.


Is there a rule for successful artistic work?

Successful artistic expression articulates an otherwise inexpressible reality of the human condition in this particular moment of time. It is sincere, deeply mysterious, and disruptive.

Is it tempting to recycle?

Not only is it tempting, success often demands that we repeat it. The nature of media and the flow of resources today are such that in any career path, one is almost always compelled (by resources, by fame, etc.) to follow the trodden path. It is the rare creator who detonates the path, to start a new path, and continues to reinvent. There are plenty of examples of this, too. They tend to reflect creators who have had a sufficient enough time to develop their creative process before the resources and fame arrived.

How do you deal with the moment of "end" before the next "beginning".

These are the best and worst of times. You are free, you are a child, you are vulnerable, you are anxious, you are curious, and you are terrified. All discovery comes out of these moments.


My last idea. Digital Scent. My first idea that became a company was inhaled insulin to replace injections. Then I had an idea that became a nonprofit to deliver vaccines for TB through the air. Then an idea of food in the air. Another company. Now I am at the limit of all these "air" ideas -- the nature of the air itself can be tremendously important to our health and wellbeing. We know this, of course, but only now are we beginning to see how to design it, as we design other things in our lives today, with digital personalization and control. It is relevant to health, to entertainment, and to sensory experience quite generally. The idea began, as many of my ideas do, in an artistic exhibition. It has evolved in many surprising ways. I am enamored of it. The idea reflects the nature of ‚Le Laboratoire‘ itself.

David A. Edward's invention named 'Opod'
My favorite work: David A. Edward's invention named 'Opod'

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