PopTech Blog

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.

This week in PopTech: OK, here we Go

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.

  • PopTech is heading to Africa! This February 7-11, 2012, we will be hosting our Climate Resilience Lab in Nairobi, Kenya. The Lab will bring together a carefully chosen network of climate researchers, gender experts, social innovators, technologists, designers, and community champions, to explore new possibilities in this domain. Our goal is to move “beyond the white paper” to identify and collaborate on high-potential new approaches that can be tested, scaled, and implemented. Follow along with #poptechlabs.
  • Nominations are now open for our 2012 Class of Social Innovation Fellows. Check out the Call for Nominations to help spark your thinking. Our alumni from the classes of 200820092010 and 2011 also offer great examples of changemakers putting new ideas into action. If you or someone you know is a great fit, head to poptech.org/nominate and submit a nomination. Get it done soon: nominations close this year on April 3, 2012.
  • Enough about us! How about some pure, unadulterated entertainment for this Friday afternoon. For the kids (or kids at heart) watch OK Go (PopTech 2010), together with Sesame Street teach young viewers about primary colors in stop mo' OK Go style. For the rest of us, the boys have something up their sleeve for the Super Bowl as well; this teaser alludes to a giant car-powered, pianola-style music sequencer. Looks like fun.

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: Peter Durand

#IAmScience: The stories behind scientists

Air-ballooning scientist

If the word "scientist" conjures a near-sighted nerd in a lab coat, you may be spending too many late nights watching the SyFy channel. A recent movement on Twitter using the hashtag #iamscience is enabling scientists from all over the world to share their pictures, tell their stories, and show off their particular science to the world at large.

Inspired by a post by science writer and marine biologist Kevin Zelnio written after he attended the Science Online Conference, the hashtag has been a fascinating way to learn the varied backgrounds of people who now make their careers in the sciences; people who were homeless as teens, became interested in science when a friend got sick and are now working on a cure, or as kids who performed stress-tests with tarantulas on their arachnophobic dads.

In its short existence, the movement has already grown beyond a hashtag: there's now a Storify page, a music video and Tumblr logs of both archived tweets and stories and pictures of cool scientists doing cool things.   

In the often self-serving and solipsistic world of social media, it's refreshing to see real stories being told and real connections being made through sharing experiences. Student neuroscientist and self-described science geek @katiesci tweeted "We are a bunch of misfits who found what we love." As #iamscience demonstrates, sometimes when you whisper into an echo chamber, a thousand voices answer back. 

Image via This is What a Scientist Looks Like

Nominations now open for 2012 PopTech Social Innovation Fellows

How do we encourage resilience in the face of the world’s many challenges? PopTech’s major focus in 2012 centers on that very question. And some of the best new solutions we’ve seen have come directly from social innovators, visionaries on the front lines of social change. Now is your chance to help speed up their impact, by nominating candidates for the PopTech Social Innovation Fellows program.

Fellows are invited to Maine in October for a five-day training, immediately followed by an opportunity to attend and present at the PopTech conference. They gain new skills and broad exposure, and benefit by connecting with the program’s faculty and the larger PopTech network. Our primary goal with the Fellows program: to enable these emerging leaders to reach real, wide, sustainable impact as quickly as possible.

Check out the Call for Nominations to help spark your thinking. Our alumni from the classes of 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 also offer great examples of changemakers putting new ideas into action: a mushroom-based alternative to Styrofoam™, peer-to-peer education loans, a platform for sustainable food distribution, and solar systems sold like mobile phone minutes, among others.

If you or someone you know is a great fit, head to poptech.org/nominate and submit a nomination. Get it done soon: nominations close this year on April 3, 2012.

The Social Innovation Fellows program is supported by the Rita Allen Foundation, the Nike Foundation, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, PwC and American Express.

Image-wise: Fiber architecture

White matter fiber architecture of the brain. Measured from diffusion spectral imaging (DSI). The fibers are color-coded by direction: red = left-right, green = anterior-posterior, blue = through brain stem.

Navigate the brain in a way that was never before possible; fly through major brain pathways, compare essential circuits, zoom into a region to explore the cells that comprise it, and the functions that depend on it.

The Human Connectome Project aims to provide an unparalleled compilation of neural data, an interface to graphically navigate this data and the opportunity to achieve never before realized conclusions about the living human brain.

via The Human Connectome Project

Bhagwan Chowdhry sums it up

UCLA Anderson Finance professor Bhagwan Chowdhry introduced us to his Financial Access at Birth (FAB) project at PopTech in which newborns are given an initial $100 in an online saving account. While FAB is in its infancy (excuse the pun), the potential is great: it would give "every human being...the dignity of financial citizenship," thereby giving a voice to the world's poorest, who often aren't accounted for.

He answered some key questions about the project during his PopTech talk. And he detailed how much work is still ahead in an interview which took place during the conference.

In addition, a colleague of Chowdhry's, Rosita Najmi, provided this succinct yet thorough recap about PopTech on the Center for Financial Inclusion blog, which was recently posted on FAB's blog as well.

1. For those of us who design and deliver products and services for the poor—
Be Tough on Ideas, Gentle on People: A “recovering” visual artist turned community builder, Milenko Matanovic shares his path from the pallet to The Pomegranate Center that builds much more than open-air gathering places—certainly a different approach to community development that honors consultation with all. Here’s a must see for anyone who calls themselves a community organizer as well as great ideas on methodology for the design of a product or service for a wider population.

2. For impact investors and practitioners working in Africa—
Rethink Africa: Unity Dow (Botswana’s first female high court judge, human rights activist, and writer) presents her version of “Dead Aid” and encourages those of us who seek development in Africa to think beyond grants and invest in its productivity. Enjoy her festival of ideas here.

3. For those who seek to enable common tasks in uncommon ways—
Reprogram your Brain: Founder and leader of World Access for the Blind, Daniel Kish explains how the visually impaired can reprogram their brain to achieve greater freedom and mobility through echolocation—yes, the same technique that bats use to navigate using sound. See and hear how here.

4. For those who are in the business of empowerment training—
Remember Power Poses Work: Amy J.C. Cuddy’s presentation demonstrates (with the help of Wonder Woman) how body language might empower us and send inferences that determine outcomes related to decisions, elections, hiring, promotions—perhaps success at accessing credit? Learn some moves here.