PopTech Blog

Siddhartha Mukherjee and Nina Dudnik fill significant scientific gaps

On the heels of his PopTech talk on the history of cancer, Siddhartha Mukherjee’s book on the topic, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, has just been published. Already receiving rave reviews by The New Yorker and The New York Times, the concept behind the book was first developed when Mukherjee, a cancer physician and researcher, was treating a patient who pressed him for what seemed like pretty straightforward information about her disease.

He recalls, during his PopTech talk, the questions to which she was seeking answers: “What was it that she was fighting? How old was it? Since when has it begun to envelop our lives the way that it does today? Where are we going? What happens next and how did we get here in this moment of time with cancer being what it is?” Recognizing there was no resource he could direct his patients to for those answers, he took matters into his own hands to become “cancer’s biographer” and close the gaps about what we don’t know about cancer’s storied past.

Nina Dudnik, a 2010 Social Innovation Fellow, is also working to fill in scientific gaps, but in a very different way. With Seeding Labs, the organization she launched in 2003, Dudnik matches labs in the U.S. that are discarding a surplus of up-to-date gently used supplies with their counterparts in developing countries that could benefit greatly from the reclaimed equipment. Furthermore, to address the sense of isolation that many scientists with whom she was working feel, she established a network to connect them with one another. As a result of Seeding Labs’ facilitation, labs in 16 countries throughout Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia have linked up with those in the United States to share skills, resources, and training as well as to cultivate the talent pool and strengthen the scientific community.

PopTech through your eyes

The dust from PopTech 2010 has settled and we’ve had a blast taking a peek at what the PopTech experience looked like through the lens of our community. Here are a few of our favorite PopTech 2010 shots that we’ve found on Flickr from and by you.


Get on the PopTech train with Aaron “tango” Tang.


Launching of PopStar during the Wednesday session with Colin Rich by participant Pete Foley. PopStar was a collaboration between Pacific Star and PopTech, hence the name and literal representation of a PopStar.
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Graham Hill and Brooke Betts Farrell get rid of stuff

At the PopTech conference, we had the opportunity to hear from two thoughtful speakers on their evolving relationship to stuff and the projects they’re working on to reduce the consumption of more stuff. Have a look at their PopTech talks to learn more about what they’re up to.

Treehugger founder Graham Hill announced a new project, Life Edited, a crowd-sourced challenge in which he’s seeking help designing his new pint-sized, 420 square foot, ultra-low-impact apartment in NYC. With $70,000 in prizes, Life Edited is trying to show that it’s possible “to save money, radically reduce environmental impact, and have a freer, less complicated life” by living in a smaller space.

Ideas can be submitted for the apartment’s very specific design requirements through January 10. Voting and feedback, which are an integral part of this process, will be accepted through January 17. Winners will be announced shortly thereafter.

From living space to industrial space, Brooke Betts Farrell wants us to rethink the value of garbage produced by corporations that’s not getting recycled. With RecycleMatch, the eBay of waste, she’s working to match companies that are tossing tons of trash with companies that’ll buy those materials and put them to good use. RecycleMatch repurposes previously landfill-destined goods (glass windows into counter tops, food waste into energy) and creates a more efficient eco-system, all while helping companies find new ways to generate income.

Watch the premiere of Imogen Heap’s 'Love The Earth' today


Grammy-award songwriter and recent PopTech presenter Imogen Heap was struck by the exquisite nature of, well, nature. So much so that she started a film project with social entrepreneur Thomas Ermacora entitled Love The Earth to engender that same sense of excitement from all of us who may take the sun, snow, and sand for granted. Meshing crowd-sourced images of nature with sound produced by Heap, Love The Earth is a platform to experience nature in a refreshingly unexpected way.

First previewed on the PopTech stage a few weeks ago, the Love The Earth montage of user-submitted footage will be accompanied by a performance from Heap and a full orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall today, November 5th, in London from 7-11 pm GMT.

Catch a free HD webcast of the event live at http://www.resounde.com.

(Photos: Kris Krüg)

PopTech Social Innovation and Science and Public Leadership Fellows videos are now available for your viewing pleasure

PopTech’s Social Innovation and Science and Public Leadership Fellows convened at our annual conference just a couple of weeks ago to share their projects with fellow Fellows, gather insight from experts in their field, and present their work to the PopTech community. We’re excited today to release presentations from all the 2010 Fellows who spoke at PopTech.


Watch our 2010 Social Innovation Fellows talks


Watch our 2010 Science and Public Leadership Fellows talks

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Gale McCullough shares quite a whale of a tale

“There’s Don Quixote, there’s Fissure, there’s Spoon, Equis and Abraxis,” Gale McCullough ticks off, turning her head towards the ocean as though she might catch a glimpse of one of the whales she’s been tracking pass by. It’s a brisk day and we’re interviewing her on the deck of the Waterfront Restaurant in Camden, Maine.

“My mind is out there just about half the time and it’s following these individuals, sometimes with great sadness and worry. So my involvement with the ocean is very personal, because it’s with them.” McCullough’s concerns about their welfare range from oil spills to noise to pollution and plastic. “I mean what’s not to worry about. And knowing individual animals makes this all mean a whole lot more.”

McCullough, a former nursery school teacher and old-fashioned naturalist, recently discovered a whale that had journeyed an unprecedented 6,000 miles from Brazil to Madagascar. The technology she used? Flickr. Through the photo sharing website where people post their “I-went-on-a-whale-watch-trip” photos, she found matching photos of the whales.

“I think scientists are going to have to make room for devoted people,” she said regarding the increasingly important role of citizen scientists. “If we can do that, ordinary people will know more about the scientific process and how carefully you have to look, but also there are so many eyes that will be out there that aren’t there now.”

A taste of PopTech 2010: videos from Eagleman, Abumrad, and McCullough

Hot off the press from last weekend’s conference in Camden is the first batch of PopTech 2010 videos. All three of them — neuroscientist David Eagleman, radio producer Jad Abumrad, and citizen scientist Gale McCullough — touch on this year’s theme, Brilliant Accidents, Necessary Failures, and Improbable Breakthroughs. Check back soon as more videos will be coming shortly.

Ok Go with bells on

The PopTech team wanted to share the latest conference highlight with you: OK Go, performing with bells on.

Cowboying up vs. geeking out with David Eagleman

When it comes to science, you walk to the edge of the pier of what we definitely know and you encounter everything we don’t know. “Every generation adds more slats to the pier,” David Eagleman, neuroscientist and best-selling author of Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, continued. But “what we know is so vastly outstripped by what we don’t know.”

David Eagleman

Scientists don’t have the capacity to gamble beyond available data. They can make up hypotheses and tolerate many of them at once, but “some questions are beyond the scientific toolbox and ambiguity is accepted as part of the relationship we have with mother nature.”

According to Eagleman, we know too little to commit to strict atheism, but we know too much to commit to a strict religious story. Holy books were written millennia before we knew about the big bang, computation, or mechanical landscapes. Moreover, there’s a sense that people are weary of the false certainty about what’s known to which many religions subscribe, a “false dichotomy of god or no god.”

Enter Possibilianism: an 18-month old philosophy fleshed out by Eagleman that rejects the idiosyncratic claims of traditional theism and the positions of certainty in atheism in favor of a middle, exploratory ground. Possibilians import the tools of science to embrace what we do know. And where that leaves off, Possibilians are open to the examination of new, unconsidered possibilities. With Possibilianism, it’s okay to embrace what we don’t know and not feel obligated to commit to any particular story.

When it comes to “cowboy-ing up,” or firmly committing to what we know about the universe around us, Eagleman says he’d rather “geek out than cowboy up,” deferring to science with an openness to uncertainty.

(Photos: Kris Krüg)

2010 Science Fellow Sarah Fortune

Sarah Fortune

2010 Science and Public Leadership Fellow Sarah Fortune, Assistant Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, is trying to figure out why the turberculosis microbacteria is so resistant. Her team has been studying the disease and the way it responds to various eradication efforts. Despite its virtual eradication in the States, it remains a significant health risk for millions of people worldwide.

“What you see is that we can always kill almost all of the bacteria,” she told the PopTech audience Saturday. “Yet there are always a few that remain. Whenever we relieve the stress on them, they come back.” Fortune reached out to the tech savvy crowd for help in her fight. “I want to crowdsource this issue,” she said. “Reach out to your networks, tell people about what we’re doing, and get back to us. We need everyone’s help.”

(Photos: Kris Krüg)