PopTech Blog

Posts by Kristen Taylor

VIDEO: Balance of Systems: PopTech 2009's Nocera, Kurgan, and Kuepper

“You’ve got to start from the bottom and work up. And if you don’t, I guarantee it will always be too costly.” Dan Nocera, PopTech 2009

With global leaders in discussions about climate change, PopTech releases three talks this week from energy researchers approaching the problem from other angles. MIT chemist Dan Nocera shows how we can move from the grid to personalized energy, spatial designer Laura Kurgan demonstrates there are no neutral maps, and scientist Nicole Kuepper creates photovoltaic cells out of nail polish, inkjet printers, and pizza ovens.

Watch Dan Nocera on personalized energy:

MIT Professor Dan Nocera believes he can solve the world’s energy problems with an Olympic-sized pool of water. Nocera and his research team have identified a simple technique for powering the Earth inexpensively—-by using the sun to split water and store energy—-and thus making the large-scale deployment of personalized solar energy possible.

Go Deeper:

- See Dan’s MIT Nocera Lab group page
- Read Dan’s MIT faculty page where he explains his work
- View the National Geographic solar energy slideshow Dan references in his talk

Watch Laura Kurgan on human geographies:

Architect Laura Kurgan is the Co-Director of the Spatial Information Design Lab at Columbia University. Kurgan visualizes complex political and social data to advocate for social reform. One project, “Million Dollar Blocks,” shows how the government spends more than one million dollars to incarcerate prisoners who live within a single census block.

Go Deeper:

- Learn more about the Spatial Information Design Lab
- See Laura’s Terre Natale, that has been on display during COP15
- Laura was named a United States Artist Rockefeller Fellow on December 14th

Watch Nicole Kuepper on low-cost solar

Ph.D. candidate Nicole Kuepper has been passionate about solar energy since she received a toy solar-powered car for her 8th birthday. Kuepper has recently patented a simple low-temperature process for printing low-cost solar cells that could make solar energy affordable across the developing world.

Go Deeper:

- Watch a video of Nicole working on photovoltaic cells in the lab
- Read the abstract for the UNSW inkjet solar cell scientific paper
- Learn more about the UNSW School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering

For more, follow PopTech photographer Kris Krug’s Flickr photostream for the latest Copenhagen images, find out why activists the Yes Men (who presented at PopTech 2006) helped coordinate and release a fake press release on behalf of the Canadian government Monday.

More climate change links:

6 PopTech Climate Change videos from the archive

Mother Nature Network’s Copenhagen Climate Talks section

Reuters liveblog from Copenhagen

Inhabitat reports Copenhagen has been “Causapalooza”

Kofi Annan in The Guardian on climate change, December 10, 2009

Updates and reporting from Mother Jones, The Uptake. Treehugger, Grist, The Nation, Center for Investigative Reporting/ Frontline/World, and The Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting

Data visualizations of global climate temperatures (follow #climatedata for more)

What do you think about these energy ideas? Where are you following COP15 coverage?

Frieder Weiss on Light Design, Creative Process, and Breaking Flatness

This year at PopTech, choreographer Gideon Obarzanek, who directs Chunky Move (an Australian dance company) spoke about designing movements for dancers that play with light.

To play with light, his Chunky Move dancers interact with software designed by Frieder Weiss, an “engineer in the arts.”

Frieder is in New York this week with Chunky Move for their “Mortal Engine” run at BAM (performances until Saturday, details below).

He talked yesterday afternoon about his EyeCon software (released for use), the unreleased Kalypso program used in “Mortal Engine,” how his lighting is live, why sound can be less accessible than light, and the frozen project he is working on next:

For more of Frieder’s thoughts on how to explore visual planes, he is speaking tonight at 6 pm at Harvestworks, and then with Gideon and the Chunky Move dancers tonight at BAM after the performance.

You can buy tickets to Chunky Move at BAM, tonight through Saturday.

And here is Gideon Obarzanek’s 2009 PopTech talk:

Questions for Frieder? Leave a comment below.

VIDEO: Steve Barr, Ashley Merryman, Dennis Littky on Educational Approaches

This week in PopTech 2009 video releases, find out the difference fifteen minutes can make to a child’s cognitive performance in parenting guru Ashley Merryman’s presentation, why school turnaround visionary Steve Barr thinks private school should be outlawed, and the way legendary teacher Dennis Littky has transformed student performance through personalized curriculae.

Watch Steve Barr on fixing failing schools:

According to Steve Barr, the fastest way to fix education in America would be to make private schools illegal. As the founder of Green Dot Public Schools, Barr is devoted to improving public education in blighted cities. His efforts have transformed high schools across Los Angeles into charter schools that send nearly 80% of students to college.

Go Deeper:

- Read the May 2009 New Yorker piece, “Steve Barr’s crusade to remake failing schools”
- Attend the Green Schools Benefit, February 11, 2010 in Venice, CA
- Find out about the recent Gates Foundation grant to Green Dot Schools

Watch Ashley Merryman on parenting:

Ashley Merryman has co-authored numerous articles about parenthood. Over the past two years, she and journalist Po Bronson have collaborated on an award-winning series of articles in New York Magazine. Their most recent work, a book titled NurtureShock, explores cutting edge research that challenges many familiar myths about how to best parent kids.

Go Deeper:

- Follow the NurtureShock blog and on Twitter @NurtureShock
- Read an excerpt from NurtureShock
- See what the NurtureShock authors think about emotional intelligence

Watch Dennis Littky on Big Picture Education:

The co-founder and co-director of Big Picture Learning, Dennis Littky believes that cookie-cutter teaching fails too many students. So Littky works to make alternative, non-standardized curriculums the new standard. Big Picture now has more than 70 schools nationwide.

Go Deeper:

- Start a Big Picture School and become a staff member or volunteer
- Attend an event with Big Picture Learning
- Read an April 2009 Education Week article on five faulty assumptions in education policy

B is for B Corps

Last week, Lucy Bernholtz, president of philanthropic consulting firm Blueprint Research & Design, spoke with Marketplace (download the audio from the link) on “Philanthropy’s Big Buzzwords of 2009.”

Between impact investing and mergers, Bernholtz talked about B Corps, the designation for businesses holding a social good certification (think LEED for social enterprise) from a group called B Lab.

B Corps screenshot

Of the 240 businesses are certified in the U.S. as B Corps, nine in Philadelphia have an additional reason to pay a tenth of 1% of their net sale to hold the certification. Last Thursday, Philadelphia’s City Council unanimously approved a bill to give a sustainable business tax credit to certified sustainable businesses in the city. The first financial incentive for sustainable businesses in law in the U.S., the new bill allows twenty-five companies in Philadelphia to receive the tax break.

Co-founder of B Corporation, Jay Coen Gilbert describes amending a company’s articles of incorporation to include B Corps “changing the DNA of a company.”

Individually, each certified company is a B Corp—together, they are B Corps.

As the “corps” entry in the online dictionary Wordnik (watch Wordnik Founder Erin McKean’s 2006 PopTech talk) aggregates definitions, synonyms, images, tweets, tags, and etymologies about different meanings and content around the term, we hope that sustainable businesses for social good will continue to find new reasons to become, as the American Heritage Dictionary defines “corps”: “a body of persons acting together or associated under common direction.”

DARPA Balloons and #scoutsforgood

To mark the 40th anniversary of the Internet, today DARPA released ten balloons for the DARPA Network Challenge, a competition in online and social network cooperation with a $40,000 prize.

“The Network Challenge winner will be the first individual to submit the locations of 10 8-foot balloons moored at 10 fixed locations in the continental United States. The balloons will be in readily accessible locations and visible from nearby roads.”

The contest end at 12:00 PM EST on December 14, 2009, and one team has another motive for the prize money.

DARPA balloons

Stan Wiechers and Carlos J. Gómez de Llarena’s team, @ballooncharity, wants to give 100% of the prize money to the Aga Khan Foundation to support programs that may help rebuild Afghanistan.

Balloon Charity tweet

From the Balloon Charity site,

DARPA is betting on people’s self-interest to motivate them during this giant crowdsourced guinea pig test. We want to bet on crowdsourced altruism. One of these motivations will emerge as the driving force behind the winning team.”

The team is always using the hashtag #scoutsforgood to mobilize team members.

Want to play? You can find the rules on the DARPA Network Challenge site.

The best way to follow or join the Balloon Charity team is through their @ballooncharity Twitter account.

VIDEO: Gideon Obarzanek, Neri Oxman, and Reuben Margolin

Where does design meet nature, technology meet dance, and kinetics meet sculpture?

This week, new PopTech videos are on interactions: biomimicry architect Neri Oxman shares her favorite natural form, sculptor Reuben Margolin creates sparkling waves of light, and choreographer Gideon Obarzanek outlines ways dancers move with each other and the spaces inbetween. And, we’re pleased to share an opportunity for PopTech Friends to see Gideon Obarzanek’s latest dance performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

We’re going to see Chunky Move on December 9th at BAM, and we hope to see you there.

Watch Gideon Obarzanek on digital moves:

Hailed by The Australian as the country’s best modern dance company, choreographer Gideon Obarzanek’s Chunky Move dazzles audiences with its use of site-specific installations and interactive sound and light technologies. Obarzanek’s avant-garde performances explore the tensions between the rational world we live in and richness of our imagination.

Special Offer for PopTech Friends: 15% Discount for Mortal Engine, Dec 9 – 12
Dec 9—12, BAM, Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Ave, Brooklyn, New York

Mortal Engine uses a spectacular mix of space-slashing choreography and hyper technology to transform the stage into a cosmic force field. As the dancers morph into light, image, and sound, this work portrays a shimmering, ever-shifting world—never predictable and always changing.

Offer valid for all performances. May not be combined with other offers and not valid for prior purchases. Subject to handling and facility fees and availability. Maximum of 4 discounted tickets per household. Offer expires Tue, Dec 8. Use promotional code 11027.

More info, video, and tickets on the BAM page.

Go Deeper:

Become a Fan of Chunky Move on Facebook

See more dance videos of Gideon’s choreography for Chunky Move

Watch Neri Oxman on designing form:

Architect Neri Oxman is the founder of MATERIALECOLOGY, an interdisciplinary design initiative expanding the boundaries of computational form-generation and material engineering. Named one of Fast Company’s “100 Most Creative People in Business,” Oxman investigates the material and performance of nature in an effort to define form itself.

Go Deeper:

Read Neri’s blog

Watch 2009 video of Neri from Fast Company

Read Surface Magazine’s recent profile of Neri’s work (.pdf)

Watch Reuben Margolin on kinetic art:

First inspired by the mysterious and mathematical qualities of a caterpillar’s crawl, artist Reuben Margolin creates large-scale kinetic sculptures that use pulleys and motors to create the complex movements and structures we see in nature. Margolin takes to the PopTech stage to share some of his extraordinary mechanical installations.

Go Deeper:

Find more videos about Reuben’s waves

Watch a MAKE.tv profile of Reuben in his studio

See where Reuben’s work has been exhibited

Support the PopTech Social Innovation Fellows

In the U.S., today is known as “Black Friday,” a day of shopping. Many are also spending time today supporting projects and organizations doing important work.

We hope you will consider supporting the amazing PopTech Social Innovation Fellows this season.

Ways to support their projects are below, and leave us a comment if you have questions—we’ll help you find ways to help the Fellows!

2009 PopTech Fellows
2009 PopTech Social Innovation Fellows, cc photo by whiteafrican.

Hope Phones

HopePhones.org supporters can donate via the Web site and request phone drive supplies.


For those who’d like to be involved in FrontlineSMS:Medic (e.g. software development, hardware, funding), please use their site contact page.

Catapult Design

Catapult Design is running a “Startup Campaign” for seed funding.

And, Catapult has just received a matching grant from ASME/Engineering For Change for contributions received — so donations will be doubled! (Start here.)

Also, Catapult has two private events in the Bay Area in December for individuals who’d like to play a role in building Catapult. For more information on those, contact Heather directly heather [at] catapultdesign [dot] org.


Vittana’s lending page has in-depth student profiles.

You can purchase student loans as gifts for friends and family during the holiday season.

You can donate directly using the links below:

Donate to I-MAK

Donate to Project H Design

Donate to Komaza

Donate to Energize Clinton County

To be involved with Movirtu, send an email to info [at] movirtu [dot[ com.

To be involved with Re:char, use their contact form.

Let us know if you have questions in the comments.

Thanks for supporting the excellent work of the 2008 and 2009 PopTech Social Innovation Fellows.

VIDEO: Anthony Doerr and Robert Guest on America and Migrations

Three new videos this week, two from writer Anthony Doerr (you can find his books on Powell’s Books) and one from Robert Guest, the Lexington columnist for The Economist.

Fiction writer and memoirist Anthony Doerr is the author of The Shell Collector, About Grace, and Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World. Here’s “Am I Still Here?”, about how networked technologies can alienate us from nature and the things that matter most. Read the text on the Orion site.

And in his beautiful “Butterflies on a Wheel,” Doerr’s narrator recounts having “traveled the great unspooling latticework of American interstates,” leading to a chance encounter between migrants in western Wyoming.

“What if the torrents of animals migrating past us every year left behind traces of their roots?…The skies above our fields would become a loom, the continents would be bundled in thread.”


Anthony has essays in McSweeney’s #32 and the upcoming #33, a full color newspaper.

Locate his upcoming appearances on his personal site.

Next summer, Scribner will publish his fourth book, Memory Wall, a collection of six stories.

Robert Guest covers American politics and culture as the Lexington columnist for The Economist. Despite some predictions otherwise, Guest suggests that America is uniquely positioned to be the world’s next hyperpower because the country has an unparalleled ability to attract immigrants from all over the world.

“America’s greatest strength, in my view, is that people want to live here.”


Learn about talent clustering through the CEOs for Cities Talent Dividend Tour.

Contribute to better cities with the just-announced Code For America.

Read Robert’s “Coming Out of the Dark” essay from The Economist The World in 2010 print edition.

What do you think about these videos? Let us know in the comments.

PopTech Part of White House "Educate to Innovate" Campaign

This morning, President Obama announced Educate to Innovate:

“… a campaign to improve the participation and performance of America’s students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). This campaign will include efforts not only from the Federal Government but also from leading companies, foundations, non-profits, and science and engineering societies to work with young people across America to excel in science and math.”

The “Educate to Innovate” campaign page lists the goals:

- Increase STEM literacy so that all students can learn deeply and think critically in science, math, engineering, and technology.
- Move American students from the middle of the pack to top in the next decade.
- Expand STEM education and career opportunities for underrepresented groups, including women and girls.

The President also announced partnerships with private companies, non-profits, universities, and foundations, citing an initial private sector investment of $260 million, which he expects to grow.

PopTech is partnering with Time Warner Cable (TWC) as part of the “Educate to Innovate” campaign for TWC’s “Connect a Million Minds” initiative.

We are excited to have PopTech’s video archive used to promote STEM skills with a younger audience, and this effort joins our work on the new PopTech Science Fellows program (you can nominate a Science Fellow).

What PopTech videos in science, technology, engineering, and math would you recommend we include in our offering? Let us know in the comments.

VIDEO: Paul van Zyl, Alec Ross, and Erica Williams

This week, President Obama has spoken in China about openness and human rights, world leaders are meeting in Rome to talk about world hunger and food security, and it is Global Entrepreneurship Week, so we are releasing three PopTech 2009 talks on truth, politics and the art of diplomacy.

Below, Paul van Zyl makes the case for an American Truth Commission, Senior Advisor on Innovation Alec Ross argues for an overhaul of U.S. diplomacy, and Erica Williams tells how the younger generations participate in politics.

All three ask us to consider how we shape the future of the American political process. (We hope you will watch and share these videos widely.)

Watch Paul van Zyl, Co-founder of the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) as he calls on America to hold its own mission to “openly and publicly” confront torture (also on Vimeo):

For more,

Download the .pdf transcript of Paul’s talk

Check the upcoming ICTJ event calendar

Read Ethan Zuckerman’s live blog post on Paul’s talk at PopTech 2009

Watch Alec Ross, Senior Advisor on Innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and co-founder of One Economy on why 21st century statecraft based on new media (also on Vimeo):

For more,

Follow Alec (@alecjross) on Twitter

Listen to the November 9th Business Week podcast with Alec, How Can Government Spark Innovation?

Find out how to start and grow a social enterprise in this Stanford Social Innovation Review podcast

Watch Washington, D.C.-based activist and Deputy Director of Campus Progress Erica Williams (also on Vimeo) on youth engagement in politics:

For more,

Learn more about Campus Progress and their work

Follow Erica (@ericawilliamsdc) on Twitter and on her personal site

Read this Christian Science Monitor article about Millenial Generation values from May 2009

Thoughts? Let us know in the comments—