PopTech Blog

Announcing PopTech Editions: Social Contagion for Social Good

We’re excited to introduce PopTech Editions, a feature that explores an emerging theme at the edge of change from the perspective of some of the remarkable innovators shaping it. From tracking behaviors within social networks to exploring the service-oriented nature of social innovation to getting a handle on the unanticipated outcomes of climate change, Editions serve as a guide to timely topics with original essays and articles from contributors, interviews from the field, videos on and off the PopTech stage, and more.

We’ll dive deep into a specific topic or trend on our radar and call upon PopTech’s rich network for their diverse viewpoints – and we’ll reach out to experts and thought leaders whose topical insights will help shape each issue.

In this edition, Person-to-person: Social contagion for social good, we're exploring if and how we can harness social contagion for social good:

  • James Fowler provides tips on the science of spreading the word;
  • Rita Colwell recounts how folding saris is helping fight cholera;
  • Duncan Watts describes what we know – and don’t know – about social contagion;
  • Sinan Aral explores how we’re influenced by our social network;
  • Gary Slutkin describes how CeaseFire interrupts violence by spreading the message;
  • and much more!

Enjoy - and let us know what you think of this first Edition in the comments below.

This week in PopTech: Book releases, musical reviews and food rules

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.

  • At PopTech 2009, Jonah Lehrer, the best-selling author of How We Decide and Proust Was a Neuroscientist, noted that, paradoxically, lacking expertise on a subject can be an asset. “It’s what allows us to see the connections, to see the problems that no one else can see.” Lehrer's lastest book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, will be released this Monday, March 19th. 
  • Singer-songwriter Ethan Lipton (PopTech 2005) has created “No Place to Go,” a musical ode to unemployment at Joe's Pub in the East Village. The show received rave reviews in the New York Times this week. 

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: Marija Jacimovic

Petridish.org: Crowdfunded science

giant red ant

Calling all armchair scientists! Petridish.org is a new site that allows you to help fund a science project, then follow along with the project team as it progresses. As with the successful site Kickstarter (which funds arts-related projects), backers reap a multitude of project-related rewards that range from updates and photographs of research in progress, to stones from far-away countries, even the possibility of naming a new species. 

Petridish.org's CEO and founder Matt Salzberg is a former VC who always had a passion for science. When crowdfunding started to became popular, he recognized that it could work equally well for scientists, who often lack the capital to complete or even begin research projects. The model also connects people to science in a very direct way, with a broad range of projects to choose from and ongoing communication with the research teams as they do their work.

"We're trying to make science participatory," says Salzberg. "This is literally research that wouldn't happen without your support." The individual project pages host information about the projects such as biographies of the teams, what specifically your money will help fund, and impassioned testimonials from the scientists themselves about why their research is important.

If you're a scientist looking to get a project funded, let them know. The site is currently in beta and actively looking to add more projects.

Follow on Twitter @petridishorg

Image via Petridish.org

Robert Fabricant's graphic doodles

PopTech friend and 2008 presenter Robert Fabricant of frog design shared his signature graphic doodles with us from PopTech 2011. He describes the reasoning behind his notetaking:

What makes a meeting, a conversation, or a PopTech talk memorable? Why bother to write down anything these days when it all ends up recorded in the cloud? A few years ago I realized that all it took were a few simple things – a particular turn of phrase, quote, story or image – to capture the essence of these moments.

One day I was passing through Terminal 5 at JFK on my way to a conference in Austin and I stumbled upon these peculiar notebooks in the Muji store. They had little boxes that were meant for storyboarding. Just like the 140 characters in a tweet, these boxes have provided the frame for condensing discussions to their essential bits. Since then it has become a bit of an obsession for me in meetings as I try to get the most out of each square. And it has spread to friends and co-workers, one of whom bought them for her son who was having trouble focusing in school.

In the digital age, when every interaction is captured in a steady stream of 1s and 0s, it is critical that we pay extra attention to the human and personal qualities of each situation. It is too easy to retreat into the ether. Thats what these notebooks do for me.

--Robert Fabricant, frog design

Click on the doodle below to view Fabricant's renderings in all their wondrous, magnified glory.

This week in PopTech: Wonder women

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.

  • Collaboration alert: Our friends at Hot Studio conducted a facilitated workshop for PopTech 2011 Social Innovation Fellow Megan White Mukuria's organization, ZanaAfrica. In their structured brainstorming session, Hot Studio and Zana developed a framework for designing the web components of Zana's services.
  • Congratulations to PopTech Fellow Hayat Sindi who was named 1 of the 100 most influential Arab women of 2012 by Arabian Business.com! A leader in both science and social innovation, Sindi launched i2, the Institute for Imagination and Ingenuity at PopTech 2011. Sindi created the Institute to bridge the gap between education and opportunity in the Middle East.

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: Zana Africa and Hot Studio

International Women's Day 2012

Today is the 40th anniversary of International Women's Day. Intended as a celebration and recognition of women's achievements and advancement, the day boasts special events, discussions and projects related to women's issues from around the globe.

Here are just a few of the events taking place today in honor of International Women's Day (check IWD's site for a more complete list). You can also follow the hashtag on Twitter at #IWD or #Women'sDay:

  • Care.org: Care is sponsoring an online screening and discussion about the film "Pray the Devil Back to Hell", which tells the story of Liberian women who took on warlords to win back peace for their country. 
  • Iran180: Iran180, which describes itself as "a diverse coalition of people and organizations who have come together as a unified voice to demand a '180' by the Iranian government on its treatment of its citizens and its illicit nuclear program" is hosting a breakfast and panel in NYC in honor of International Women's Day. The panel, moderated by Anne Barnard of the New York Times, focuses on women's issues in Iran. Footage from the discussion will be available on their site post-event.
  • Makers: Makers is a video initiative by PBS and AOL that features stories of trailblazing women (a trailer from the video project is at the head of this post.) Past PopTech Social Innovation Fellow Heather Fleming of Catapult Design is featured in one of the videos talking about how she was inspired to design and build products that provide solutions for impoverished communities. Read more...

The business of human trafficking

One-time investment banker turned author and human trafficking expert, Siddharth Kara began his quick but compelling talk at Harvard’s Social Enterprise Conference with a rather obvious point: slavery and human trafficking are illegal. The fact that there are currently twenty nine million people in slavery worldwide is a clear indication of an enormous failing of our contemporary culture.

Though Kara approaches the incredibly difficult topic of human trafficking from the business and economic side of the story, he is quick to point out that “it is not intended to lose sight of the human side of these crimes.” In fact, his approach makes the urgency around abolition even more compelling, since often the personal stories evoked in the rhetoric around these atrocities are too overwhelming to comprehend.


Powering up at the Energy Innovation Summit, part II: Quick takes

In our ongoing conversation about the future of energy - and a follow-up to our post last week - we captured some great stories from energy disruptors on the ground at ARPA-E's Energy Innovation Summit.

OPX Biotechnologies, Inc.

Makani Power


Steve Blank


Energy shop talk: Johanna Wellington on clean energy technologies

Johanna Wellington was inspired to go into a technology career because she loves math like other people enjoy doing crossword puzzles. She started off at GE as an intern, went on to be a Combustion Design Engineer, and held several other positions before joining the Research Center in her current role as Advanced Technology Leader for Sustainable Energy where she is an expert in clean energy technologies. In our ongoing conversation about energy, here's our latest edition to our series of shorts on energy disruptors.

Bioremediation: Bacteria and fungi FTW

PopTech Science Fellow Shaily Mahendra’s first science experiment began at five years old when her parents commanded that she drink her milk. She negotiated by adding soda into the mix, gradually increasing the soda to milk proportions stopping just short of the point where the milk curdled. Fast forward through college at IIT, Delhi, graduate school at U.C. Berkeley to her present teaching post as an Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UCLA.

These days her science experiments focus on bacteria that clean up pollution. Through a process called bioremediation, bacteria and fungi detoxify groundwater and soil contaminated with pollutants such as carcinogens. Ultimately, bioremediation gradually restores the environment to a state of pollution-free healthy regional biodiversity.

Mahendra considers herself equal parts scientist and engineer, asking tough questions and working to solve tough problems. Bioremediation brings together her interests and education in engineering, chemistry, math, biology and nanotechnology in support of her goal to help create clean water and clean energy. "I can be proud when I tell somebody, I discover bacteria that eats pollution. Every time I say those words I feel really good about it." Read more...