On a rainy Saturday morning in early March, Joe DeRisi and Eric Chow were hauling a $90,000 robot down 16th Street in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood. The machine, a 150-pound cube of dull gray metal crucial for running medical tests at a high volume, was perched on a plastic cart, with scrap cardboard taped to the top to keep it dry.
The streets were eerily empty. A shelter-in-place order would soon take effect in the city, which reported its first case of Covid-19 on Jan. 31. To avoid sidewalk bumps, DeRisi and Chow rolled their cart right down the middle of the road.
Chow, who runs the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Center for Advanced Technology, was doing DeRisi a favor. He was loaning the machine to the UCSF biochemist, who is also a co-president of the Chan-Zuckerberg Biohub, a research facility launched in 2016 with a $600 million grant from Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg’s private philanthropy.