PopTech Blog

Posts by Emily Spivack

Image-wise: Merely a mountain

A mountain is transformed into a glowing red beacon as the sun's rays break through the clouds at sunrise. Harry Litchman captured the image at Grinnell Peak in Glacier National Park, Montana, America.

Image: Harry Litchman/Solent News & Photo Agency

via The Telegraph and In Other News

This week in PopTech: Modern medicine, good food and reluctant innovators


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.

  • Just in time for Mother's Day, Rapper Abdominal (PopTech 2008) has released a new track, "Courage," which features none other than...his mom!
  • This week, Ken Banks, founder of Kiwanja as well as PopTech faculty and 2008 Social Innovation Fellow, posed a request on his blog seeking ideas and nominations for "reluctant innovators" or more specifically, "people who unexpectedly come up with an innovative solution to a problem they’ve experienced or witnessed" for his new book. If you know someone who fits the bill, let him know.

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Image: Modern Medicine

Erika Block connects the dots with Local Orbit


"Do you know who produces the ingredients in your kid's school lunch? What about the meals at your parent's assisted living community? Or even the milk in that coffee you pick up on the way to work each day?" If PopTech Social Innovation Fellow Erika Block has anything to do with it, we will all know soon enough.

While our food system is efficient, it's also chock full of problems: run-off from pesticides, ever-increasing obesity, salmonella outbreaks, just for starters, which has made that information increasingly important. So what if we could buy from local farmers more easily? What if restaurants could order from farms in their region without having to jump through hoop after hoop just to get the food delivered?

By asking, "What tools will help us cut through the fat in a food system that's clogging our literal and figurative arteries?" Local Orbit is working to address those issues. With its online platform, buyers and sellers can effortlessly connect and transact with each other. Buyers can learn about the farms in their region, load up a single online shopping cart with produce from different local farmers, make one single payment, and presto! The food is theirs!

Only $8 billion is spent on local food sales each year in the U.S. out of $1.25 trillion spent in total food sales, but Local Orbit is working to shift the scales. If 20% of food is purchased locally, which amounts to $250 billion annually, Block explained, we can not only create stronger local economies, but we can also provide better nutrition, safer food, more jobs, and less waste. With Local Orbit at the helm working to make its online marketplace available to communities nationwide, we'll soon have much more information about where our food is coming from. Block concludes, "Simply by knowing who produces what we eat, we'll build healthier communities."

Seeing the Anthropocene

We are altering Earth's natural cycles. We have entered the Anthropocene, a new geological epoch dominated by humanity. This relentless pressure on our planet risks unprecedented destabilization. But our creativity, energy and industry offer hope.

via Fast Company's Co.Exist

Wondrous patterns of nature at the newly opened Nature Research Center

The incredible, 80,000 square foot Nature Research Center opened just a couple of weeks ago at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, NC. While its on our list of places we'd like to visit sometime soon, we got a sneak peak inside the exhibition with this video, Patterned by Nature. The sculpture, which is 10 feet wide, 90 feet long, made from 3,600 tiles of LCD glass and and runs on less power than a laptop, wends its way through the museum's five stories. As Sosolimited, the exhibition designers, explained:

The content cycles through twenty programs, ranging from clouds to rain drops to colonies of bacteria to flocking birds to geese to cuttlefish skin to pulsating black holes. The animations were created through a combination of algorithmic software modeling of natural phenomena and compositing of actual footage.

If you've visited the new Research Center, let us know how it is!

Nothing fishy about this robot fish

Maurizio Porfiri, a mechanical engineer at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, has built a robot fish that real fish flock to. It's not about how the mechanical fish looks to the other fish, but how it feels. In a video from this past Friday's Science Friday show on NPR, Porfiri explains:

Typically, when you speak of biomimicry, you tend to give a very human-centered interpretation so you speak of biomimicry if it looks like it. In this case, we try to fake what the fish feels rather than what the fish sees.

By replicating the flapping of a fish's tail, other fish recognize the motion and follow, forming a herd.  And before long, the robot fish is leading the pack. Eventually that could mean using this fake fish to shepherd fish out of harm's way, like an oil spill or some other environmental disaster. Porfiri has a ways to go before that time, but based on the progress he made since the initial discovery a few years ago, it looks like he's on the right track.

How do you see time?


The Time Project is a collection of user-generated graphic interpretations of time.The project asks:

What do you see, when you picture time?

Think about the next week, month, or year… the rest of your life, or your life so far. Does a diagram come into your head?

Submit your illustration to their online collection.

Images: The Time Project

David Mikkelsen's reconnecting refugees with their loved ones

In 2005, David Mikkelsen and his brother, Christopher, met a young man, Mansour, who had escaped the Taliban in Afghanistan when he was 12 and fled with his family to Pakistan only to, shortly thereafter, lose all contact with his family and wind up in Copenhagen, Denmark alone. The Mikkelsen brothers were determined to help him find a member of his family, which led them on a journey all over the world that ended in Moscow. Six years later, with the Mikkelsens' help, Mansour was able to locate his brother.

The Mikkelsens knew that this was just one story amidst millions of refugees who have lost contact with their family members and don't know their whereabouts. During his 2011 PopTech talk, David Mikkelsen thoughtfully explains, "The torture of uncertainty is just not okay. It's not okay not being able to find your family. The not knowing is so hard."

With that in mind, in 2008 the brothers established Refugees United, a mobile platform where refugees can reconnect with each other via inexpensive mobile phones. As it's described on the Refugees United site:

This digital infrastructure not only fosters greater collaboration and promotes unhindered sharing of information among Family Tracing and Reunification (FTR) agencies, but it also gives refugees the ability to become directly involved in their search for missing family via an anonymous, safe forum; easily accessible tools; and an ever-expanding, user-driven family finding network.

In 2011, Refugees United had 50,000 people looking for family members in its database. By the end of 2012, with outreach and community awareness, the organization predicts about 250,000 individuals looking to connect with loved ones will have found their way to the organization. Spread the word.

Afternoon music break: Blitz the Ambassador

Ghanian-born, New York-based rapper, composer, and producer Blitz the Ambassador and his crew made waves when they performed at PopTech 2011. Before they kicked off their set, we hung out with them backstage.

Image-wise: Finding the Milky Way in plexiglass

From Wired Magazine's Raw File:

The photos in Deborah Bay’s new photo series, The Big Bang, show otherworldly close-ups of bullets lodged in panels of plexiglass. For Bay, they recall images of nebulae and Big Bang explosions, but they are also blunt reminders of a bullet’s destructive force.

“Photography’s roots are so based in realism and I like to take it the other way,” says Bay. “I make an effort to take you into another place that is not quite so real, or maybe real in it’s own way. I aim to give you some food for thought.”

Images: Deborah Bay via Wired Magazine's Raw File