PopTech Blog

Joy Reidenberg: Neck-deep in whales

Joy Reidenberg, celebrated whale anatomist, often finds herself neck-deep inside a whale that's washed ashore, studying its innards to learn how it's evolved in the outside world. In the second talk we're highlighting from PopTech Iceland 2012, “Why Whales are Weird,” energetic, articulate anatomist Joy Reidenberg presents an unbelievable array of fact about the beloved mammal (Whales have a vestigial pelvis! They migrate the distance of half the planet)! They have mustaches!). She took us through the story of evolution using whales as a model, explaining that evolution is the process to mediate resilience and thus, survival.

Watch now: First stage talk from PopTech Iceland released—Tim Harford!

What does it take to rewrite a country’s constitution in four months? What can the triggers of oil rig disasters tell us about financial crises? Why do whales have moustaches? Here’s your chance to find out! We’re excited to announce that today, we’ll begin to debut talks from presenters who took the PopTech stage in Iceland last month. Our inaugural releases, over the course of this week, include presentations from a constitutionalist author, an undercover economist, and a celebrated whale anatomist.

First up, a talk from Tim Harford, the U.K.’s foremost undercover economist, author of Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure, columnist for the Financial Times, and a powerful storyteller about complex economic systems.



Enjoyed this talk and craving more? Don’t miss out on the opportunity to join us this fall at PopTech Camden. Satisfy your intellectual curiosity and register today.

Tomorrow, learn fascinating trivia about the world’s largest mammal. Stay tuned!

Image-wise: Chalk, extremely close-up

Chalk under a microscope looks pretty beautiful. Who knew? Robert Krulwich recently spent a lot of time thinking about chalk on his NPR blog, Krulwich Wonders. He breaks it down:

Chalk is composed of extremely small white globules. They look, up close, like snowballs made from brittle paper plates. Those plates, it turns out, are part of ancient skeletons that once belonged to roundish little critters that lived and floated in the sea, captured a little sunshine and carbon, then died and sank to the bottom.

Image: PLOS Biology via Wikipedia

via Explorer

PopTech Editions II: Sameer Kalwani on Sarvajal's clean water micro-infrastructure


Recently, PopTech launched its second Edition, Small is beautiful: The micro-everything revolution. Our Editions explore an emerging theme at the edge of change from the perspective of some of the remarkable innovators shaping it. In the coming weeks, we’ll highlight pieces from contributors who are exploring the dynamics of the micro-everything revolution, from design and engineering for radical affordability to overcoming hurdles to distribution. Today, we’re excerpting a piece from  2011 PopTech Social Innovation Fellow Sameer Kalwani who developed the technology platforms for Sarvajal.

From telecommunications to transportation, India has made rapid advances in its infrastructure. At Sarvajal, we hope to be on the forefront of India’s next technological evolution – basic services infrastructure — as we strive to meet our mission of providing high-quality drinking water to every denizen. Previous water distribution models relied on large-scale production and would often take years to implement, not to mention costly transportation system and high maintenance expenditures. On top of that, poor infrastructure would lead to severe product losses. For example, in New Delhi, up to 40% of the treated, clean water is lost through pilferage and cracked pipes. But Sarvajal has worked to alleviate some of these issues; a new decentralization of the filtration process allows us to distribute water for a fraction of the previous cost and get to every nook and cranny of a population.

Our micro-franchise solutions get high-quality, low-cost solutions to those who are marginalized by the lack of better infrastructure support that’s typically in urban slums and rural villages. Bottled water and other private solutions are usually available in these areas, but are often quite costly, keeping a necessary resource out of reach for the poor. Our micro-franchise solution in the town of Churu, in Rajasthan, brought the price of private drinking water down to less than one cent per liter. Now more people can afford clean water who didn't have access to it before. Over the course of the past year that Laxmangarh, Rajasthan has been an active franchise, we've seen the number of customers more than double, so people are actually adopting the solution and getting their friends to use it as well.

In many small rural villages there are no solutions for their contaminated water. For example, in Mundawar, villagers knew they had an issue with their water system, but without public or private sector attention they had no alternatives. With Sarvajal in their village, they have a solution, and it has encouraged more people to drink clean water. For example, a 43-year old woman named Laxmi had been bedridden for five years and was asked by her doctors to drink clean water, but she had no financial means to do so. In an effort to permeate previously unreached villages, Sarvajal partnered with a local entrepreneur in Mundawar to provide a solution to the villagers’ water-based health problems. A year after Sarvajal entered Mundawar, Laxmi and others can use and afford clean water, providing them with improved health both short- and long- term.

Read the full article and check out the complete Edition.

Image: Sarvajal

This week in PopTech: Possible cures, potential failures and definite cuteness

There's always something brewing in the PopTech community. From the world-changing people, projects and ideas in our network, a handful of this week's highlights follows.

If you'd like to receive a stream of these updates (and more) throughout the week in real time, follow us on TwitterTumblrFacebook, sign up for our newsletter, and subscribe to the PopTech blog.

Image: ntr23

Peter Durand paints a picture of PopTech Iceland 2012

Graphic facilitator extraordinaire and long-time PopTech friend Peter Durand came to Iceland to do what he does best whenever PopTech hosts a conference: he sketched and sketched...and sketched some more. The outcome, portraits of each speaker and performer who took the stage, paints a captivating, colorful picture of the two-day event in Reykjavik. Have a look at our slideshow of his work:


Who needs refrigeration when we have silkworms?


Supporting innovation in healthcare is a key part of PopTech's agenda. We highlight the work of amazing people in our community like Raj Panjabi, and his efforts to build scalable health solutions for war-stricken countries, Matthew Berg and Josh Nesbit’s work to revolutionize health services through mobile technology, architect Michael Murphy’s buildings that heal, and Hayat Sindi’s use of tools micro-fabricated in paper to make diagnostic care available to people living far from medical infrastructures. Every so often, a piece of innovation comes along that broadsides everyone, knocks our socks off, and--hopefully--changes the game forever.
 
Researchers at Tufts University School of Engineering have discovered a way to maintain the potency of vaccines and other drugs that otherwise require refrigeration for months and possibly years at temperatures above 110 degrees F, by stabilizing them in a silk protein made from silkworm cocoons.

"Silk protein has a unique structure and chemistry that makes it strong, resistant to moisture, stable at extreme temperatures, and biocompatible, all of which make it very useful for stabilizing antibiotics, vaccines and other drugs,” says David Kaplan, leader of the team.

The trick happens at the molecular level. Silk protein fibroin is composed of interlocked crystalline sheets with numerous tiny hydrophobic pockets. The pockets trap and immobilize bioactive molecules, protecting them from the decompositional effect of water and preventing them from unraveling. It’s like enveloping a fragile material in what’s being called “nanoscale Bubble Wrap”.

It is currently necessary to keep bioactive drugs refrigerated all the way from manufacture to use, wherever that may be on the globe. Health experts estimate that nearly half of all global vaccines are lost due to breakdowns in the "cold chain”. The potential for off-infrastructure healthcare, including in war and disaster zones where electricity is unavailable, is enormous.
 
But here’s perhaps the most remarkable thing. The team believe it will be possible to construct shapes and forms out of the pharmaceutical-infused silk, such as microneedles, microvesicles and films, that allow the non-refrigerated drugs to be stored and administered in a single device. Watching this design story unfold will be fascinating, and no doubt biotech visionaries like artist Daisy Ginsberg will be grabbing themselves a front row seat.

via Tufts University

Image: thanatic

Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back

After three years of work, Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back, which PopTech Executive Director Andrew Zolli co-authored with Ann Marie Healy, is available through Free Press. The book explores a new framework for understanding resilience: why some systems, people, organizations and ecosystems are able to persist, and even thrive, amidst disruption. Zolli elaborates:

We live in this world that has been dominated by shocks and surprises....How do we deal with that kind of world? That question has driven a new conversation about resilience. It's a conversation about how to build organizations and communities and nations and indviduals that can maintain their core purpose with integrity under the widest variety of circumstances and can deal with disruption no matter what it looks like.

Update: Zolli has also penned an opinion piece in the New York times exploring this theme in the wake of the devastation left by Hurrican Sandy. 

The resilience frame speaks not just to how buildings weather storms but to how people weather them, too. Here, psychologists, sociologists and neuroscientists are uncovering a wide array of factors that make you more or less resilient than the person next to you: the reach of your social networks, the quality of your close relationships, your access to resources, your genes and health, your beliefs and habits of mind.

For a visual explanation of a few themes covered in Resilience, have a look at the book's trailer.

To learn more, check out the book's site or this great review by Morgan Clendaniel on Fast Co.Exist.

PopTech Editions II: Nigel Waller's Movirtu is micro-izing the mobile phone


Recently, PopTech launched its second Edition, Small is beautiful: The micro-everything revolution. Our Editions explore an emerging theme at the edge of change from the perspective of some of the remarkable innovators shaping it. In the coming weeks, we’ll highlight pieces from contributors who are exploring the dynamics of the micro-everything revolution, from design and engineering for radical affordability to overcoming hurdles to distribution. Today, we’re excerpting a piece from Movirtu founder and 2009 PopTech Social Innovation Fellow Nigel Waller.

I wanted to see firsthand who owned cell phones and who did not. It was 2006 and I was near the border of Zimbabwe and South Africa. Driving between villages with my two local guides, pushing further north, at first it was hard to find people without phones. To my untrained eye, there was little difference between a village housing people earning $2 a day and those earning $1.25 a day. Once I became aware of that, I asked the villagers directly about their earnings. I was quickly able to map the poorer villages and found that mobile phone ownership levels dropped once the person’s earnings went below $2 a day. If you’re earning $2 a day, a $25 handset is 10 months savings for the 2.5 billion people worldwide who live below the poverty line. There seemed to be a huge opportunity, not only for a low-cost mobile phone, but also an opportunity to make a difference for these people without access.

Because I’d been involved in the mobile phone industry since its birth in the late 80s, I immediately started thinking about designing a low-cost handset.

After reading about the endeavors of Motorola and other handset vendors in that space and the very low product margins they had to endure I quickly backed off. Village pay phones was another model I investigated, but without a capability for users to have their own phone number and keep private calls and messages, the pay phones only provided a limited outbound calling service. Let’s create a pay phone with an external SIM card slot‚ I thought, but then after a little research, I understood the prices of such devices would be well over $700 a piece.

The scope of this opportunity kept churning in the back of my mind. Two years later I had the spark! My oversight was taking the product I knew, the mobile phone, and trying to find a way to make it cheaper. What I needed to do was rethink a new technical solution. Linking the mobile phone number to the handset was the mistake. Why not put the identity in the cloud and allow people to log in and log out of any shared or public device that was nearby, just like accessing your email through a web browser? I would use standard signaling technology that was available on any basic handset to provide the "Internet link" and access a phone in the cloud that would cost the user 20c a pop, instead of $25. I had managed to turn the problem on its head, and micro-ize the mobile phone.

Read the full article and check out the complete Edition.

Image: Movirtu

This week in PopTech: Contextualizing Iceland

There's always something brewing in the PopTech community. From the world-changing people, projects and ideas in our network, a handful of this week's highlights follows.

If you'd like to receive a stream of these updates (and more) throughout the week in real time, follow us on TwitterTumblrFacebook, sign up for our newsletter, and subscribe to the PopTech blog.

Image: Trollbäck + Company