PopTech Blog

Posts by Michelle Riggen-Ransom

American Museum of Natural History's bright new exhibit on bioluminescence

If you've ever chased fireflies on a warm summer evening or trailed your fingers at night through glowing tropical waters, you've experienced the natural wonder of bioluminescence.

The American Museum of Natural History in New York City is currently featuring a new show called Creatures of Light: Nature's Bioluminescence, which places these glittering stars center stage instead of twinkling in the shadows where they usually dwell.

The show addresses questions like:

  • What is bioluminescence?
  • What organisms are bioluminescent, and where are they found?
  • How does bioluminescence work?
  • How do organisms use bioluminescence to survive in their environment?

See these fantastic creatures as imagined by the talented AMNH design team; LED-lit, lovely and larger than life.

Creatures of Light runs through January 2013.

Van Jones on rebuilding a dream

Rebuild the Dream coverWith an election year looming, people are paying careful attention to what's going on in and around the White House. Past PopTech presenter Van Jones offers a unique perspective in his just-released book Rebuild the Dream.

The book describes Jones' journey from green economy activist to his appointment by President Obama in 2009 as first-ever Special Advisor for Green Jobs, a position he left just a few months later. Why he left and why Jones still believes in the concept of the American Dream are focal points in the book and provide the backbone for his Rebuild the Dream movement.

Jones explores how we can create jobs for millions of Americans—including returning veterans, debt-burdened students, and public employees (such as teachers, policemen, and firefighters) who all are increasingly, adversely affected by America's failing economy. Read his take on how the hope Obama built a presidential campaign around lives on at the grassroots level and in the lives of average Americans.      

Ocean Conservancy helps clean up a dirty, dirty world

Ocean trash infographic

The Ocean Conservancy, which organizes an annual International Coastal Clean-Up, has published its results in the 2012 Trash Index. You're not imagining it: as the global population swells, tankers continue to leak oil, and plastic water bottles continue to be our favorite way to drink tap water, the world's beaches are getting dirtier.

Nearly 600,000 volunteers worked in multiple countries to pick up and record the over nine million pounds of trash listed in this report. Check out their trashy findings, download a helpful pocket guide to recycling and if you're inclined, donate to help their efforts. And for the love of all things oceanic, if you smoke, find a better place than the ocean or ground to throw your cigarette butts (the number one piece of trash found on beaches)!

Image: Ocean Conservancy

Hackasaurus gives you code-reading goggles

How to hack supergirlThe folks at Mozilla have come up with a fun, easy way to learn code. Hackasaurus is an "open source, education resource project" that allows you to view the world wide web in a whole new way. 

Using an add-on bookmarklet called "X-Ray Goggles," you can see the HTML elements of a webpage, which are the building blocks for any page on the web. Even better, you can then edit, save and re-publish pages, offering an endlessly tweakable digital playground.

The ability to edit published pages upends the way content has traditionally been served on the web. As Hackasaurus Technical Lead Atul Varma says in a project video, "In the Web 1.0 world, a page is an extremely static thing. You can do very little to change its shape once it's been delivered and shown on a web browser." 

Hackasaurus throws the idea of a passive browser out the window, especially in the hands of curious, empowered teens. In Hack Jams around the world, kids are getting together to do cool things with code. Mozilla even provides a Hacktivity Kit that enables you to run your own jam.  

"Learning to code HTML is a gateway to more serious programming," says software developer (and author's husband) Sean Ransom. "Hackasaurus is great for anyone who's interested in how web pages work."

If the past decade or so is any indication, learning code seems like an invaluable skill to have for the future. Help your kids get their hack on.

Petridish.org: Crowdfunded science

giant red ant

Calling all armchair scientists! Petridish.org is a new site that allows you to help fund a science project, then follow along with the project team as it progresses. As with the successful site Kickstarter (which funds arts-related projects), backers reap a multitude of project-related rewards that range from updates and photographs of research in progress, to stones from far-away countries, even the possibility of naming a new species. 

Petridish.org's CEO and founder Matt Salzberg is a former VC who always had a passion for science. When crowdfunding started to became popular, he recognized that it could work equally well for scientists, who often lack the capital to complete or even begin research projects. The model also connects people to science in a very direct way, with a broad range of projects to choose from and ongoing communication with the research teams as they do their work.

"We're trying to make science participatory," says Salzberg. "This is literally research that wouldn't happen without your support." The individual project pages host information about the projects such as biographies of the teams, what specifically your money will help fund, and impassioned testimonials from the scientists themselves about why their research is important.

If you're a scientist looking to get a project funded, let them know. The site is currently in beta and actively looking to add more projects.

Follow on Twitter @petridishorg

Image via Petridish.org

International Women's Day 2012

Today is the 40th anniversary of International Women's Day. Intended as a celebration and recognition of women's achievements and advancement, the day boasts special events, discussions and projects related to women's issues from around the globe.

Here are just a few of the events taking place today in honor of International Women's Day (check IWD's site for a more complete list). You can also follow the hashtag on Twitter at #IWD or #Women'sDay:

  • Care.org: Care is sponsoring an online screening and discussion about the film "Pray the Devil Back to Hell", which tells the story of Liberian women who took on warlords to win back peace for their country. 
  • Iran180: Iran180, which describes itself as "a diverse coalition of people and organizations who have come together as a unified voice to demand a '180' by the Iranian government on its treatment of its citizens and its illicit nuclear program" is hosting a breakfast and panel in NYC in honor of International Women's Day. The panel, moderated by Anne Barnard of the New York Times, focuses on women's issues in Iran. Footage from the discussion will be available on their site post-event.
  • Makers: Makers is a video initiative by PBS and AOL that features stories of trailblazing women (a trailer from the video project is at the head of this post.) Past PopTech Social Innovation Fellow Heather Fleming of Catapult Design is featured in one of the videos talking about how she was inspired to design and build products that provide solutions for impoverished communities. Read more...

New grocery cart Kinects shopper and purchases

Earlier this week at its Seattle headquarters, Microsoft debuted a new use of its popular gaming technology. A company called Chaotic Moon demoed a shopping cart that had been outfitted with Microsoft's Kinect sensor for Windows. The carts, which will be tested later this year by Whole Foods, follow shoppers around a store keeping track of grocery lists and tallying items along the way. The tricked-out carts will even let you know if you've selected the wrong item (say, pasta with gluten versus gluten-free), and check out your purchases when your list has been completed.

Microsoft says that over 300 companies are working on commercial applications for the Kinect technology. 

Video via and hat tip to Geekwire

2012 Google Science Fair: Call for student entries

Spring is drawing ever closer and with it comes science fair season, when parents dust off their folding card tables and kids put together their best interpretation of Mount Vesuvius using only Cheese Wiz and mud.

This year, Google is once again getting into the science fair action with their second annual Google Science Fair. The contest, open to students ages 13-18, allows entries from either individuals or teams of up to three people in a variety of categories (see complete rules). Last year's winning projects (all led by girls!) included a study on carcinogens in grilled chicken, improving air quality for asthma patients, and improving treatment results for ovarian cancer patients.  

The theme this year revolves around asking a question. From the site:

Have you asked a question today? What did you do with it?

Did it take you somewhere new? Did it bring you here?

The Google Science Fair is an online science competition seeking curious minds from the four corners of the globe. Anybody and everybody between 13 and 18 can enter. All you need is an idea.

Geniuses are not always A-grade students. We welcome all mavericks, square-pegs and everybody who likes to ask questions. Simply upload your project here to win some life changing prizes.

Everyone has a question. What’s yours?

Prizes include a National Geographic Expedition to the Galapagos Islands, a $50,000 scholarship from Google and a bunch of other amazing, science-related things. You can follow along on all the projects' process on the related Google Plus site or on Twitter @GoogleSciFair

If you're a teacher, a student or know a budding scientist who might be interested, please help spread the word about this opportunity. Let's take the science fair to the next level!

#ILoveArchitecture. Do you?

Heart made of buildings and bridges

We admit it: we kind of have hashtag fever. While the initial novelty of Twitter is wearing off (and as it has increasingly become a place for spambots and psychotrons), it's interesting to see how the tool usage is morphing and how it still very much has the power to do what all social media claims to do: bring people together.

A couple of weeks ago, we wrote about the pro-scientist movement started by marine biologist Kevin Zelnio with his Twitter hashtag #IamScience. This time, fresh off of Valentine's day, we're checking out #ilovearchitecture. Conceived by Architecture for Humanity, the I Love Architecture movement encourages architects to "Put down the coffee for a moment and spend minutes reminding yourself why you love architecture and, if you feel so bold, let the world know. It could be a building you worked on, a client who made you think differently or a community you’ve helped to transform. It could be the work of a fellow practitioner or perhaps a great space that inspired you to become the person you are today."

Recognizing their contributions, PopTech has welcomed many architects to the stage over the years including 2011 Social Innovation Fellow Michael Murphy, RISD architecture professor Kyna Leski, and Architecture for Humanity project partner Neema Mgana.  


Free webinar series: SVA's Design for Social Innovation

Design for Social Innovation logo

Want to learn more about designing for social innovation? The School of Visual Arts' Design for Social Innovation program is hosting a series of free webinars showcasing "360° of Design".

The webinar series, beginning February 16th and running over the next few weeks, feature insights and thoughts from design technologist and Studio 5050 founder Despina Papadopoulos, design strategist and ethnographic researcher Marc Rettig, and executive recruiter Lauren McDonald, who's speaking about how to get a job in design.

Learn more about the program and register for the webinars here. You can also follow them on Twitter @SVADSI.

And check out our interview with PopTech Board Chair and Founding Chair of SVA's Design for Social Innovation MFA, Cheryl Heller, who talks about this new program.