PopTech Blog

Talking trash and making monsters with Tierney Thys

On November 20th, marine biologist Dr. Tierney Thys met with students and artists/scientists from Monterey County and Fresno, California schools to talk trash as part of PopTech’s Spark initiative. Thys explained how trash makes its way to the ocean, gathers in ocean gyres and endangers the lives of countless marine creatures. In fact, some forms of pollutants, like plastics, can become exponentially more dangerous as they transform from physical threats to chemical threats. In fleshing out ways to combat this growing problem, participants considered various solutions including the four Rs: Refuse single-serving plastic containers as well as Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

Keeping those ideas in mind, the monster-making began. Drawing from five wheel barrels brimming with beach trash collected by the community days before the event, participants quickly transformed the mountains of plastic, Styrofoam, cigarette butts, juice boxes, wrappers and lids into sculptural masterpieces. Students wrote and recorded descriptions of their creations.

Emma Finch, a 12-year old participant, described the sculpture she titled "The Three UnWise Men”:

This piece exemplifies three types of foolishness we see in the world today. On the far right is the Polluter, an “Average Joe” who is in denial about environmental concerns and continues living the “disposable” life. Front and center is the Pyromaniac, an unsavory individual whose incessant smoking harms himself and others. On the
far left is the insidious Perpetrator of Lies. This is the guy who will tell you that global warming is fake and smoking is good for you. He’ll do anything to make a profit.

On December 15, all works of art will be exhibited at the Monterey Plaza Hotel as part of National Geographic’s Marine Recreation Community Workshop. Thys hopes to continue her work with Trash Monsters by partnering with the Ocean Conservancy as well as making Trash Monster events an annual part of the International Coastal Cleanup.

Images: Tierney Thys

Alan Rabinowitz saves big cats and Brian Hare gets schooled by bonobos

Panthera CEO Alan Rabinowitz’s debilitating stutter as a child led him to seek refuge amongst animals. He felt most comfortable during trips to the Bronx zoo where he hunkered down at the great cat house to watch powerful jaguars, lions, and cougars locked in a cage with no voice of their own. As a child, he vowed to be their voice. Since then, Rabinowitz has devoted his life to do whatever possible to conserve these animals and their habitats.

For years, he worked to set up safe havens for these animals including the world’s only jaguar sanctuary in Belize and the largest tiger reserve in Myanmar. But for Rabinowitz, that wasn’t enough. “No matter how fast I ran, no matter how many hours I stayed up in a day, no matter how many protected areas I set up, I was losing. And at this point in time, I had set up about eight protected areas over 15,000 square kilometers of pristine habitat for these animals to live and I could not keep pace with human kind. I couldn’t keep pace with the way people were killing and mistreating these big cats.”

Then Rabinowitz had an epiphany. He discovered that jaguars, without being cordoned off in their own sanctuaries, were surviving, thriving, and finding their way through the human landscape from Mexico to Argentina. So what if he could create a corridor in which these animals could move freely, a space still inhabited by humans, but safe for these animals? That idea has been set in motion with a corridor of private and public land established in Central and South America, the result of tireless collaboration between governments, local communities, and conservationists. Next up: Rabinowitz is working on developing a similar model for tigers throughout India, China and Southeast Asia.

From cats to chimps, Duke University Evolutionary Anthropology and Cognitive Neuroscience professor Brian Hare studies the origins of human nature as it relates to bonobos. Looking at the evolution of these primates’ social skills has informed how he considers humans’ abilities to problem solve and resolve conflict. His findings, which he shares with us on the PopTech stage, have left him doubting the generally held viewpoint that humans are the most highly evolved species.

The Economist dissects the meaning of failure

Shirley Tilghman from PopTech on Vimeo.


In exploring the theme of PopTech’s 2010 conference, “Brilliant Accidents, Necessary Failures, and Improbable Breakthroughs,” we turned to our friends at The Economist, who conducted interviews on the subject at their Ideas Economy conference.
Ten presenters, including John Maeda, Shirley Tilghman, and Stephen Pinker, were asked to describe the role failure plays in their innovation process. Award-winning Economist correspondent Vijay Vaitheeswaran introduced the series from the stage at PopTech. Check out all the videos, and visit The Economist’s new online ideas forum, the Ideas Economy, for more.

Imogen Heap and Yasser Ansari reconnect with nature

Imogen Heap had two objectives when she took the PopTech stage last month. She introduced the audience to her newest initiative, a collaboration with social entrepreneur Thomas Ermacora entitled Love The Earth. The film and sound project combines crowd-sourced videos of nature with music scored by Heap herself. Heap hopes that capturing these images of the natural world for this project will renew each participant’s own sense of wonder about something we so often overlook.

Shifting gears, she then played a tune for the PopTech audience.

Yasser Ansari also thinks the key to reconnecting with the planet is reinvigorating that child-like wonder we used to have about the world around us. His organization, Project Noah (Networked Organisms and Habitats), is giving us the tools to make that happen. Through a mobile platform, users can upload images of their own encounters with nature, experience the wildlife around them with a location-based field guide, and participate in scientific research projects.

Ansari elaborates, “So whether it’s an oil spill in the Gulf coast, rain forest deforestation in Central America, or an invasive species, like a beetle here in Maine, our users are going to be on the front lines documenting those encounters in nature. Maybe down the road they’ll discover a new species or make a new discovery for science.” A new generation of citizen scientists has just been given its toolkit.

Popular Science recognizes Pieter Hoff's Groasis waterboxx

If you attended or watched the PopTech 2010 conference, you might remember Pieter Hoff’s Groasis waterboxx presentation. Well, the folks at Popular Science noticed his invention, and they gave him a couple of awards for it — the Grand Award of Green Tech and the Overall Award of Popular Science, to be exact.

If you missed the talk, here it is.

Or, read about it to get a quick idea.

And be sure to check out our short interview with Pieter during the conference.

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.

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