Necessity is often credited as the mother of invention. For Jonathan Rothberg it was the frustration of sitting around in hospital waiting rooms that made him the father of a new idea.
His daughter suffers from tuberous sclerosis causing cysts to grow in her kidneys, for which she needed repeated ultrasound scans, but they were time-consuming and involved travelling back and forth to hospital. He was convinced there was an easier way.
Mr Rothberg already had a track record of innovation: he was behind the first high-speed sequencing of DNA using digital technology, which allowed many more people access to their own genetic codes.
This time he was sure technology could deliver a cheaper, easier way to perform ultrasound scans.
Just a few years down the line and he has produced the Butterfly IQ. It fits in a lab-coat pocket and plugs into an ordinary iPhone. It uses thousands of tiny sensors, each smaller than a human hair, mounted on a computer chip, which, in the same way that a bat uses sound to locate objects, can build a picture of a human body from the inside out, to check the growth of a foetus in utero, the size of your liver, or assess a tumour.
Jonathan Rothberg says his aim is to “democratise” healthcare by offering the scanner at a low cost – it is priced at $2,000 – and by putting diagnosis in the hands of ordinary people.
“Our vision wasn't just to empower healthcare professionals,” says Mr Rothberg.
“We wanted anybody, anywhere, to have a window into the human body.”