PopTech Blog

Whales' tale: discovery by a fluke

Gale McCullough

Gale McCullough is a former nursery school teacher who has suddenly found herself in the middle of a most improbable scientific break-through. A Maine resident with a long-time passion for whales, McCullough was looking at photos on Flickr one day and happened to do a search for humpback whale flukes.

In addition to all of these lovely photos, McCullough’s keen eyes spotted something else: the familiar fluke markings of whale that she recognized from another photo. The surprise? The photos were taken three years and 6,000 miles apart. She confirmed the match through Maine marine mammal laboratory Allied Whale’s database. For her discovery, she quickly earned the new moniker of “citizen scientist”.


Say Watts!

The PopTeam wanted to share with you a taste of Reggie’s performance today. Enjoy!

Six Words about Larry Smith and his Six Words project

Larry’s passion: brevity of stories, connection.

(We’ll be catching up with Smith later to learn more about what six words PopTech attendees are submitting via email and Twitter. You can read more about Smith’s “Six Word Memoir” project on his site Smith Mag . We have Larry’s grandfather “Smitty” to thank for the inspiration for this project, which has inspired folks from teenage girls to war veterans all over the world to share their own six word stories. Wait a minute, that was more than six words…)

(Photo credit: Kris Krüg)

2010 Social Innovation Fellows Rush Bartlett and Laura Stachel

Injectable drugs are a huge part of modern life, and with 16 billion injections a year, delivery system innovation is a field ripe for breakthroughs. 2010 PopTech Social Innovation Fellow Rush Bartlett’s company LyoGo has developed a completely self-contained system with the potential to revolutionize the way people are immunized.

Rush Bartlett

Bartlett explained to conference-goers on Thursday how LyoGo’s injection unit mixes and injects drugs without the need for vials or syringes; the needle is also completely covered and retracts into the unit after use, which means there is no medical waste. The delivery system is only half the battle, of course. The shipping, handling, and storage of sensitive vaccines can be a challenge, especially in developing countries. However, pharmaceutical companies have developed freeze-dried vaccines that cover a wide array of preventable disease and can be stored at room temperature, eliminating the need for refrigeration. Bartlett is working to get those drugs into his LyoGo units.

“The system is simple, it’s elegant, and pharmaceutical companies are working with us to get it into development,” he said. “We want people to reach out to their networks and help us to build relationships to get this product and others like it on the market.”

Laura Stachel

When 2010 Social Innovation Fellow Dr. Laura Stachel traveled to Nigeria in 2008 as an obstetrician on a research team studying hospitals, what she found shocked her. It wasn’t that the clinics were resource poor or that there was a shortage of health care workers, these were to be expected – no, what was truly shocking was the number of women who were dying in childbirth due to a lack of electricity.


PopTech Announces the Spark Youth Project


On Thursday, Andrew Zolli announced a new PopTech youth initiative called Spark. The project seeks to engage young people at the moment when they might “switch off and lose interest” in what science and technology can provide by offering them a vision of PopTech.

The project chronicles the work of five innovators whose work might inspire young people. The project is also supporting four high school students who are PopTech conference. They’ve been meeting speakers, blogging about their experiences, and otherwise having a great time.

Zolli shared one of the Spark videos on stage; the rest can be found at the project website.

Spark is presented in collaboration with Time Warner Cable and the Connect a Million Minds campaign. The project has also received support from the Noyce Foundation.

Susan Casey on the mysterious life of waves

What is it about waves? Susan Casey, author of her newest book, The Wave, believes that besides the sun, waves are one of the most powerful forces — beautiful, mysterious and terrifying. For three years, Casey has been studying this phenomenon, observing their behavior, researching their history, and talking with people who spend their lives in the ocean.

Susan Casey

Casey went on to explain that waves can take many forms. Rogue waves, which she referred to as “oceanic criminals” are known to be two-three times bigger than an average wave. Rogue waves can swallow up 1,000 foot ships; in fact, an estimated two ships per month disappear from these waves.

Tsunamis, caused by the lurching of the earth’s crust, are another force to be reckoned with, whether in Lisbon in 1755, Indonesia in 2004 — or in the “spookiest place on Earth,” Lituya Bay, Alaska in 1958 when a 1,740 foot wave slammed into the surrounding mountains.

Casey’s research on waves had her tracking down surfers like Laird Hamilton and scientists like Penny Holiday whose research ship serendipitously ended up measuring the largest waves ever recorded.

Casey summed up her passion for studying waves, “My purpose was to talk about what we don’t know about the ocean … the thing that makes up most of the planet.”

(Photo credit: Kris Krüg)

David de Rothschild helms the Good Ship Plastiki

Sailing around the ocean on a boat made of plastic bottles might not be most people’s idea of a good time. But, as speaker David de Rothschild pointed out, it’s a great way to bring attention to an issue he’s passionate about: the impact of plastics on our planet and, specifically, our oceans.

De Rothschild is the unlikely captain of an even more unlikely ship: the Plastiki Eco-Expedition. The Plastiki is a boat made from 12,000 plastic bottles, which de Rothschild and his six-person crew of nautical nomads intend to sail from the South Pacific to Sydney. Referencing photographer Chris Jordan’s (a PopTech presenter from last year) work cataloging the catastrophic effect plastic has had on the seabird population, de Rothschild made a similar point that plastic does not disappear from the ecosystem. Every piece of plastic ever produced still exists: a fact that surely would have surprised its inventor and perhaps given him pause to reflect on the unintended consequences of this “brilliant accident”.

By building a boat out of something usually considered waste, de Rothschild hopes to increase its perceived value: essentially creating diamonds where once there was only debris. See photos of the Plastiki boat in action at: http://www.theplastiki.com/photos/

(Photo credit: Kris Krüg)

Alan Rabinowitz Fights to Save Big Cats

As a child, zoologist Alan Rabinowitz had a debilitating stutter that left him barely able to communicate with his teachers or classmates. He withdrew into a world dominated by animals, often spending his afternoons with the big cats at the Bronx Zoo. Like him, they had “no voices of their own.” So Rabinowitz promised them that if he ever found his own voice, he would help the cats find theirs.

Alan Rabinowitz
(Photo: Kris Krüg)

Rabinowitz’s story about how he learned to control his stutter, and went on to become one of the world’s foremost conservation experts won a standing ovation at PopTech 2010. What is most remarkable about a man who has dedicated his life to protecting big cats is that he has never been willing to accept traditional measures of success.

Rabinowitz, now the CEO of conservation group Panthera, set up the world’s only jaguar sanctuary (in Belize) and the largest tiger reserve (in Myanmar), but was failing to adequately protect big cats. Despite half a century of international conservation efforts, about half of the world’s forests had disappeared and global biodiversity continued to plummet. He had always relished opportunities to slip away to remote areas away from humans, yet corralling animals into safe havens might be doing more harm than good.

The trouble was that trying to isolate animals from humans didn’t provide enough space for the cats. It also didn’t realistically reflect the extent of human development. Then Rabinowitz had a vision: to create a system of interlinked wildlife corridors that could allow animals to roam more freely. It could transform how we think about wildlife conservation.

Jaguar Corridor

Rabinowitz has already established a working model, a corridor that connects jaguar preserves across Central and South America. These wildlife corridors weave through private and public lands, requiring the combined help of governments, local populations, and conservationists. Now, Rabinowitz is tackling the far trickier issue of setting up a tiger corridor across India, China, and Southeast Asia.

(Image: Panthera)

The boy who didn’t have a voice found it in a big way. Through his struggle to save the cats he loves so much, Rabinowitz might well have found a model that could allows us to co-exist more naturally with the animals.

Beth Shapiro Unlocks the Mysteries of Woolly Mammoths

Beth Shapiro

Evolutionary biologist and PopTech 2010 Science Fellow Beth Shapiro is fascinated by woolly mammoths.

In particular, she wants to know why the brown bear lives while giant beaver became extinct. She does this by extracting the DNA sequences from the bones of long-extinct animals. They’re often only gene fragments, but they’re enough to let Shapiro trace the evolution, and extinction, of a species.

Although there are numerous challenges to extracting ancient DNA (researchers have failed to get DNA from dinosaurs, or from insects encased in amber) Shapiro’s cutting-edge DNA research is helping us make informed decisions about how to preserve the species that are currently under threat.

(Photo credit: Kris Krüg)

Help Graham Hill edit his life for a chance to win fabulous prizes

It’s no surprise Graham Hill wants you to reduce your carbon footprint in a big way, but his new initiative Life Edited is starting small. Hill wants you to help design his brand-new 420 square-foot apartment in NYC.  Offering up to $70,000 in prizes, Life Edited is raising the stakes for low-impact designers.

Graham Hill

He started his search for a new pad last year. Being Graham Hill, his concerns went far beyond the normal “One bedroom or two? Is it close to a train? Where exactly do I have to live to afford a back yard?” thoughts of the average New Yorker. With 80 percent of New York’s footprint coming from buildings, Hill thought deeply about where to live. He decided he didn’t need many rooms (apparently one will suffice), he didn’t need as much stuff, and he would be happier living simply.

“I want to create a tiny jewelbox of an apartment,” he said. “It’s good for my wallet, good for the environment, and good for my mental health.” He decided to crowdsource his dream box and wants all interested parties – designers, commenters, people with ideas, or just those with feedback – to weigh in.

“We’ve all heard the saying, ‘The future is here, it’s just not widely distributed,” he said. “I want everyone to join us at Life Edited. The message is ‘Less but better; make room for the good stuff.’”


(Photo credit: Kris Krüg)