PopTech Blog

Tony Orrico: Symmetry in Motion

Tony Orrico utilizes patterned physical movement and graphite mark-making on paper to create bilateral drawings that leave a powerful record of his process. He is equal parts dancer, choreographer and visual artist; and there is a hypnotic quality to the repetitive motions, intense focus, and physical endurance required to create his drawing performances that can last up to seven hours.

He shared his artistic journey with the PopTech 2011 audience, including the important early influence of his grandfather, a painter, as he began his exploration of visual art and contour through dance and choreography that have culminated in his Penwald drawing series. The video shows Tony performing one of those pieces at PopTech 2011. Read more...

Climate Resilence Lab: A recap

Last week, PopTech brought together an amazing and diverse group of thinkers, stakeholders, and domain experts in Nairobi, Kenya for our Climate Resilience Lab.  The three-day event was our first major convening around the issue of building resilience to climate change effects at the community level with a particular focus on identifying the roles of and opportunities for girls and women.

PopTech Labs are part of our ongoing mission to bring together carefully curated networks around issues of vital importance to business, society and the planet.  The goal of every Lab is to map a particular space, identify opportunities for disruptive innovation and ideas, and to collaboratively design unconventional actions to propel such ideas forward.  Labs foster sustained conversations that last well beyond the initial gathering as network ties deepen and new questions and solutions emerge. Read more...

Valentine's Day interview: Bejewel intelligently with Rachel Lichte and the Clarity Project

Clarity Cushion Engagement Ring, 2011

If you're tired of those incessant Valentine's Day ads hawking heart-shaped, diamond-encrusted jewelry for your honey from the nearest chain store, enjoy a breath of fresh air with the Clarity Project. Started by Rachel Lichte, Shane Rogers, and Jesse Finfrock, the social enterprise sells fairly sourced fine jewelry and diamonds, and then invests its profits back into local organizations working in the mining communities to improve the lives of the miners and their families. We spoke with co-founder Rachel Lichte about how the Clarity Project is sourcing gems responsibly and supporting local communities while imbuing your keepsake with even more meaning in the process. We also got some tips on how we can all be savvy consumers when it comes to purchasing fairly sourced jewelry.

PopTech: How did The Clarity Project get its start?
Rachel Lichte: The Clarity Project started as a search for a personal solution to the challenge of finding a diamond engagement ring that we could feel confident about and comfortable with. After research and conversations internationally and industry-wide, we could not find a company out there that shared our belief that the diamond industry has an obligation: the very best diamonds can and must be a powerful tool for community development in historically marginalized mining communities.

Jewelry is a platform for storytelling and self-expression. So often the story of the diamond itself is avoided and unknown. We wanted to make this a story worth sharing. So we decided to do something about it. And we started by making one ring.

In the three years since our founding, the project has developed three interconnected goals: Create beautiful, timeless jewelry to match the top jewelers; improve the quality of life for miners and their communities; and build a new type of sustainable business that can make our first two goals possible. Shane, Jesse, and I each lead the charge on one of these three interconnected goals. Read more...

Interview: Michael Murphy on architecting health

Michael Murphy, Founding Partner and Executive Director of MASS Design Group is an architect who explores questions with an anthropologist’s sensitivity to cultural context. A 2011 Social Innovation Fellow, he was just awarded designer of the year by Contract magazine.

His PopTech 2011 talk examines design solutions to a set of questions including: If we require a building to give jobs only to the community in which it’s built, how many people would be impacted? What economies would be created if only local materials were used for building and construction? How would buildings look if they responded specifically to the climate and landscape in that region? We caught up with him to find out about his plans and new projects.

PopTech: What have you been working on recently?
Michael Murphy: We've been hired by USAID to draft a primer for international health facilities. All health infrastructures that they fund or build will be informed by this primer policy document. Besides what happens with an individual building, we could change policy globally, which would be really substantial for us.

We broke ground on Phase Two of the Butaro Hospital in Rwanda. We'll be building around 20 or so houses for staff, doctors, visiting surgeons and surgical residents who will be coming from Brigham and Women's hospital. We want to build dignified residences to help keep doctors on staff. That should be completed by this June.


This week in PopTech: The brain is one complicated piece of meat

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.

  • Earlier this week, YouTube sensation Zee Avi (PopTech 2009) released an EP of remixes for the song ‘Concrete Wall’ available on Amazon or iTunes. Our favorite? The RAC Remix.

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: Perrin Ireland

Energy shop talk: Arun Majumdar on disruptive energy innovation

This week, we're highlighting a few people within the PopTech network who are working on the forefront of disruptive energy innovations, utilizing new technologies, models and scientific discoveries.

Dr. Arun Majumdar is a busy and important man. Appointed by President Obama, Majumdar is the very first Director of the country's only agency, ARPA-E, devoted to energy research and development that focuses on high risk, high reward technologies promising genuine transformation in the ways we generate, store and utilize energy. 

While he got into the energy field because he grew up during the energy crisis of the 70s (some of you may remember the long lines, the searching for gas stations that still had gas, the system of buying gas on odd or even days depending on the last number on your license plate), Majumdar remains in the energy field because it provides him with a way to "give back". His most deeply held belief about energy? The world is in transition with phenomenal changes in all fields, and US leaders in science and engineering - "the best in the world" - need to innovate in the energy space to enable the rest of the world to turn toward a future that will sustain the world's population growth and enable economic growth. "That's the biggest business opportunity for the United States of the 21st century."

Free webinar series: SVA's Design for Social Innovation

Design for Social Innovation logo

Want to learn more about designing for social innovation? The School of Visual Arts' Design for Social Innovation program is hosting a series of free webinars showcasing "360° of Design".

The webinar series, beginning February 16th and running over the next few weeks, feature insights and thoughts from design technologist and Studio 5050 founder Despina Papadopoulos, design strategist and ethnographic researcher Marc Rettig, and executive recruiter Lauren McDonald, who's speaking about how to get a job in design.

Learn more about the program and register for the webinars here. You can also follow them on Twitter @SVADSI.

And check out our interview with PopTech Board Chair and Founding Chair of SVA's Design for Social Innovation MFA, Cheryl Heller, who talks about this new program.

Energy shop talk: Jay Keasling on plant-based fuels

This week, we'll be highlighting a few people within the PopTech network who are working on the forefront of disruptive energy innovations, utilizing new technologies, models and scientific discoveries.

Jay Keasling (PopTech 2007) introduced himself to me at PopTech's Energy Disruptors Salon as a professor at UC Berkeley. Keasling, who is considered one of the foremost authorities in synthetic biology, could just as easily have introduced himself as any of a host of other titles including Director, CEO, Department Head, and Scientist of the Year. I like him immediately. He is quick to laugh and at the ready with short, cogent, passionate answers to everything I ask him.

As a synthetic biologist, Keasling didn’t start out in the energy field. But his Nebraskan farm roots inspired him to apply the research he'd been conducting for years to search for new, clean-burning fuels using plants.

When I asked him what one message he’d like to deliver to the world, he was a little stumped.  “Just one?”  But in the end, his most important message was that if we give the industry the time it needs, we can completely replace petroleum with biomass that's been converted into fuel.

Energy shop talk: Science Fellow Jessika Trancik wants to pick up the pace

This week, we'll be highlighting a few people within the PopTech network who are working on the forefront of disruptive energy innovations, utilizing new technologies, models and scientific discoveries.

In 2011 Science Fellow Jessika Trancik's lab, they're hard at work to quicken the pace of energy solutions for transportation, heat, and electricity that won't emit the copious amounts of fossil fuel-based carbon dioxide, which have caused global climate change problems. Trancik explained in her PopTech talk that we have about 50 years to alter our energy consumption so we need to act with intelligent haste.

One method to mitigate climate change, which she described, was to combine low-tech materials with higher technological information processing methods. For example, her lab is developing solar cells based on raspberry juice and titanium dioxide, an ingredient commonly found in toothpaste.

By utilizing simple materials with advanced models, moving quickly, and tailoring technologies to the environmental context, we can develop clean tech solutions to meet the world's energy needs.  "We are working on trying to accelerate the development of these clean technologies using knowledge of materials and physics and environmental systems and combining that with computational models," concluded Trancik.

World Cancer Day Flashback: Siddhartha Mukherjee

On World Cancer Day, we're highlighting the PopTech 2010 talk from Pulitzer Prize winning author Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee. His book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, and his stage talk explore the history of a disease that one out of every three women and one out of every two men will develop in their lifetime.