PopTech Blog

Kids kicking the new science knowledge

kid dressed as a scientist

We love kids and we love science and we really, really love kids who love science. With all the sturm und drang about the dangers of the Internet and technology in general on young, impressionable minds, it's great to see technologies being developed that are teaching kids to be better observers of the natural world.

Presented at last year's PopTech was Yasser Ansari's Project Noah (Networked Organisms and Habitats). Project Noah allows you to record your sightings of plants, birds, insects and animals using your mobile device. You can make field notes, add pictures, and geo-locate where your sighting took place, giving other users and researchers important information while you're out enjoying a Sunday morning family hike. With new features launched earlier this year, the app allows you to earn retro-styled girl/boy scout-esque badges, lending it a nice gaming component while creating an army of young citizen scientists.

Another cool app for little nature lovers is Leaf Snap, which does something similar but specifically for trees and plants. And a new app called KidScience is being developed by Liz Heineke, who runs the kid-friendly site Kitchen Pantry Scientist. This app will allow you to search for age- and materials-appropriate science experiments that you can perform using common household products. 


Patrick Tresset and Frederic Fol Leymarie: The human touch of a robot's hand

Artistic expression, computational rendering – or perhaps a little bit of both? That’s what we’re left to ponder upon seeing the process and resulting images created by Patrick Tresset and Frederic Fol Leymarie’s AIKON. The robotic arm they’ve invented reinterprets human faces to create portraits, or “facial representations” as Patrick Tresset prefers to refer to the resulting images. Combining computer vision with personal robotics, the AIKON attempts to mimic the cognition we use when we draw and the sketching performed by the human hand.

Watch the AIKON robot arm sketching portraits at PopTech:

To learn more about how the AIKON was dreamt up, check out Tresset and Leymarie’s PopTech stage talk.

And to see the AIKON’s completed masterpieces, have a look at these drawings of PopTech 2011 attendees. Do you recoginize anyone?

Interview: Cheryl Heller on SVA's new Design for Social Innovation MFA

PopTech Board Chair Cheryl Heller is the Founding Chair of a new MFA program, Design for Social Innovation, at the School of Visual Arts in New York. As the founder of Heller Communications, she’s been working at the intersection of design, communication, social change, sustainability, and business strategy for years and now, at SVA, she has an opportunity to transfer her knowledge to a student body with a growing interest around those same topics. Since the program is just getting underway and applications are still being accepted for the program's first year, we wanted to check in with Heller to learn more about why this program is being sought after right now.

PopTech: Why do you think there’s a desire for SVA’s Design for Social Innovation Masters of Fine Art program at this very moment? What’s happening to fuel that need or interest?
Cheryl Heller: We’re witnessing a global movement in social innovation – encompassing a broad spectrum of industries, social and business strata, generations and geographies. If you think about it, everyone who wants to create change, whether they know it or not, will need to design it. We’re offering people a path to learning to design positive change intentionally and sustainably and they are hearing it.

What are a few examples of where you hope students will land after going through the Design for Social Innovation program?
The most obvious places are inside corporations or business or design consultancies, working as or with entrepreneurs and with NGOs. But we are finding opportunities showing up in places where they didn’t exist before - with government agencies or community organizations. All these organizations have come to realize that they can’t succeed without including the needs of society and the environment in their future; that change will happen whether they’re ready for it or not, so they might as well design it.


Roberth Neuwirth: When the free market and the flea market collide

If you happen to be in London tomorrow, December 6, try to catch author, journalist and PopTech presenter (2005, 2011) Robert Neuwirth and his talk on Adapting to an Urban Future at the Royal Geographical Society.

And if you can’t make it, consider checking out his recent stage talk at PopTech that came on the heels of his recently published book, The Stealth of Nations: The rise of the informal economy, an examination of the often hidden world of the informal economy, or System D as French culture classifies it, around the world.

With 1.8 billion people, or half the working people of the world, involved in this system that has a combined value of $10 trillion, the “United Street Sellers Republic” or “Bazaaristan” as Neuwirth refers to it, is the second largest economy in the world. It will soon rival the largest, the United States, since by 2020, it will include 2/3 of the working people of the world.

As global businesses find their home in slums, shopping malls set up shop in squatter communities, and stores can be managed from small boats and makeshift stands, we’re seeing an informal, D.I.Y. economy that’s growing faster than the formal economy. The flea market is becoming the free market as Neuwirth explained:

We can emulate the flea market and the philosophy of the flea market…There are a lot of ways of adjusting the frame to accept that we have this vast economic system that is keeping half the workers of the world alive and employed and growing and we have to figure out how to work within it.

Why neuroscience may help save the oceans

Marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols believes we’re psychologically tethered to our primordial home, the ocean. Sound far-fetched? Then think for a moment about how you feel when you’re standing on a beach, looking out at the seemingly endless blue horizon, or when you pick up a seashell and “listen” to the sound of waves crashing ashore. There’s something about it, isn’t there? Nichols has termed this feeling "blue mind," he explained in a recent interview published in OnEarth, and he's enlisted the help of neuroscientists to study it.

Twice in the past year – once in June, then again a few weeks ago – he gathered those researchers, as well as environmentalists, conservation scientists and artists together, in California, at the BLUEMiND Summit, to start exploring this connection. Nichols said in the interview:

Sound, for example, affects our brain and influences our emotions. If I ask you to close your eyes and turn on a recording of the ocean, I can change your mood immediately. There’s a huge body of research on the science of music and the brain, but almost nothing on the sound of the ocean and the brain. That’s probably going to be the first study that comes out of the Blue Mind Summit....

His interest in the way our brains respond to the deep blue sea isn’t merely academic. He sees it as the foundation for a new kind of response to the environmental crisis facing the oceans: NeuroConservation. This 21st-century form of conservation would harness new discoveries about the brain and behavior, courtesy of advances in cognitive neuroscience, to help people become better environmental stewards. “Without a deeper understanding of our brains, we’re not going to ‘think our way out’ of the current biospheric crisis,” Nichols writes at Mindandocean.org.


This week in PopTech: Cloud forests, think tanks and live performances


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.

  • In last week's T MagazineAnthony Doerr (PopTech 2009) ventures to Ecuador to explore a cloud forest. For a ten minute vacation, click on through

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: Lifeboat

It's Follow-Up Friday at PopTech!

You attended PopTech (this year, last year, or years ago!). You sat next to an incredible person at the opera house (or likely, quite a few) and were exhilarated by your conversation. You exchanged business cards, email addresses, Twitter handles. You meant to reach out, catch up, drop a note or grab a coffee, but days passed, things got hectic, and it just never happened. As that stack of business cards peers back at you from the corner of your desk, you feel like it might be a little awkward to contact to that person out of the blue.

Now we're giving you a free pass. December 2, 2011 is officially Follow-Up Friday at PopTech! Send that email you've been meaning to send. Meet up for coffee. Find him or her on Facebook. We'd be thrilled if you did, especially since part of what it means to attend PopTech is having an opportunity to develop ongoing relationships with all the folks in our network.

And let us know in the comments some of the PopTech connections you've made since you attended the conference.

Image: Thatcher Cook for PopTech

The David Wax Museum plays on

PopTech 2011 performers David Wax Museum have two shows coming up this weekend in Boston and New York. To get your feet tapping and your hands clapping in anticipation of these shows, enjoy a few of their songs from the PopTech stage.

Hear them play this Saturday, December 3, in Boston at the Arlington Street Church. Or, on Sunday, December 4, head to their show in New York City at Le Poisson Rouge.

Flashback: World AIDS Day special

On World AIDS Day, we're highlighting a few people and projects from within the PopTech community that are making inroads in the prevention of HIV/AIDS by building awareness, promoting HIV testing, and supporting people living with the disease.

2009 Social Innovation Fellow Deb Levine founded her organization, ISIS (Internet Sexuality Information Services), in 2001 to build better tools to promote sexual health and prevent disease. ISIS gives people private and convenient access to information on critical health issues like HIV prevention and unplanned pregnancies.

2010 Social Innovation Fellow Kel Sheppey and his organization, Wild4Life, are focused on leveraging preexisting organizations, and especially wildlife conservation NGOs, to promote HIV testing and awareness-building campaigns in remote communities.

“Sinikithemba” is Zulu for “give us hope” or “we give hope.” The Sinikithemba Choir is a group of HIV-positive Zulu men and women, who performed at PopTech 2006, that provide support to persons with HIV/AIDS at McCord Hospital in Durban, South Africa.

Unlocking the autism mystery with Alysson Muotri

2011 Science Fellow Alysson Muotri spends his days using stem cells to understand autism, a disorder that affects 1% of all U.S. children. By examining the brain cells of adult patients with Rett syndrome specifically, he's trying to determine if Autism Spectrum Disorder is permanent or if it's possible to treat those cells with chemicals, inducing them to revert back to normal conditions.