4 Life-Changing Technology Responses to the Global Refugee Crisis

The world is experiencing a growing refugee crisis. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), approximately 11 million Syrian refugees have fled their homes since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in March 2011. This enormous number doesn’t even take into account refugees from other parts of the world who have been forced to flee their home countries. The United Nations places this overall number at 65 million, which is the highest level ever recorded.

 

These figures are more than numbers though. They are people who have been forced to leave their homes – and sometimes loved ones – in an attempt to find safety. However, after leaving the conflict and strife of their homelands, refugees face new problems in their travels and in refugee camps.

 

The situation might seem bleak, but it is far from hopeless. Individuals and organizations are leveraging technology and innovation to improve the lives of refugees around the world, creating a safer and brighter future in what can sometimes seem to be a hopeless situation.

 

1. Smartphone Apps for Mental Health

Most refugees are forced to flee their homes abruptly, leaving them with only the clothes on their back – and sometimes a cell phone. Creative and caring minds around the world are using these phones, specifically smartphones, to improve the lives of refugees.

 

Using a smartphone, refugees can connect with Karim, an AI program that provides psychological support. Since Karim can understand a person’s mental state and emotional needs, it can have text message conversations with users in Arabic. Karim can respond to users with appropriate comments, questions, and suggestions. This type of service is invaluable in refugee camps, a place where mental health services are lacking, but every resident has experienced some type of trauma.

 

It might seem obvious, but another invaluable feature of cell phones is communication. Facebook offers its free messaging service to all users, which is vitally important for refugees. This simple service allows refugees to reach their loved ones, even if they don’t have access to a cellular network, which is the case for most refugees. Also available on smartphones is Crisis Info Hub, a GPS-enabled database that provides location-specific information to help refugees have a safer journey by land.

 

2. Lifesaving Rescue Drones

A different form of technology is helping refugees with sea journeys. Specifically, a drone called Emily (Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard).

 

Emily is a four foot long, remote-controlled buoy that can rescue refugees at sea. Reaching top speeds of 22 mph, Emily can swim through rip-currents and turbulent waters to reach swimmers in distress. Emily is already being put to use in Greece, where thousands of refugees have lost their lives trying to enter Europe by sea.

 

3. Lights for Safety, Education and renewable Energy

Many people don’t realize how dark it can be in a refugee camp, not only figuratively but also literally. Many refugee camps plunge into total darkness at night, creating a dangerous environment, especially for women and girls. However, sexual assault against females is not the only risk in a dark refugee camp. Theft and wild animal attacks are also serious issues.

 

After learning about this problem, The IKEA Foundation partnered with the UNHRC to brighten the lives of refugees. The Foundation is providing more than just lighting though. It is also donating sales of its lighting products to help improve access to primary education and renewable energy “in refugee camps across Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.”

 

To date, the Foundation has provided more than 56,000 solar lanterns and 720 solar street lights to refugee host communities in Ethiopia and Jordan. It has also helped more than 37,000 refugee children enroll in primary school in Bangladesh, Chad, and Ethiopia. Additionally, it has built 22 plants in Bangladesh to turn 15% of human waste into green fuel for cooking and baking.

 

4. Location Database for Web and Mobile

Since refugees have to leave their homes under chaotic conditions, it is common for family members to lose track of each other. In fact, sometimes family members end up in entirely different countries, on opposite ends of the globe. This leaves refugees feeling afraid and alone. It’s a tragic problem in an already desperate situation. However, technology is also helping loved ones find each other and reconnect.

REFUNITE is a nonprofit organization that focuses on using technology to reconnect refugee families around the world. The organization believes that “everyone has the right to know where their family is.” This belief guides the organization as they strive to empower refugees to search for – and find – their missing loved ones via mobile phone, computer, or a free helpline.

 

By partnering with Ericsson, a variety of mobile networks, and the United Nations, REFUNITE has changed the process of family reunification. With a user-friendly, online database that contains more than 600,000 profiles from people all around the world, it has never been easier for refugees to find their missing loved ones.

 

REFUNITE operates independently in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, and Turkey. It has also partnered with Facebook to provide its services for free in a total of 14 countries. For refugees, finding missing family members is an important step towards normalcy.

 

In a world that’s facing a growing refugee crisis, many people feel too overwhelmed to help. The need – 65 million refugees – simply seems too great, but innovators and humanitarians are stepping up, showing the world that technology and a caring touch can make a difference.

Welcome to the Diamond Age of Power

Welcome to the Diamond Age of Power

Storing and monitoring nuclear waste, which can take thousands to millions of years to become non-radioactive, is a costly challenge. Chemists and physicists from the University of Bristol have developed an ingenious method of using up some radioactive waste and also creating a long-lasting, clean energy source: a man-made nuclear diamond battery. What a beautiful solution!

A video released by the university explains that since the 1940s, the UK has run many nuclear reactors for research, military purposes and electricity generation. Britain’s Magnox reactors are now being decommissioned and 104,720 tons of radioactive blocks are leftover. The blocks are made of graphite and were used to control reactions in the cores of the reactors. The blocks became radioactive over the years and now contain a layer of radioactive carbon-14 on the sides that were closest to the uranium rods.

Nuclear waste that is released into the environment can lead to extensive soil and groundwater contamination, affecting entire ecosystems. Carbon-14’s radioactivity is only powerful enough to penetrate a few centimeters but is still considered too toxic to be let loose in the environment. What the scientist have discovered is that they can make the blocks less radioactive and easier to store by heating them to drive out the radioactive carbon-14, which it turns out can be very useful in diamond battery production.

Man-made carbon diamonds are able to produce a small electrical current when they are exposed to radiation. Knowing this, scientists set out to create a safe man-made diamond battery made of radioactive material in order to increase this electrical output. By applying the right amount of low pressure and high temperature to the carbon-14 gas, they successfully created a man-made diamond.

“Carbon-14 was chosen as a source material because it emits a short-range radiation, which is quickly absorbed by any solid material,” said Dr. Neil Fox, one of the chemists. He also pointed out that because diamonds are the hardest substance we have ever discovered, they offer optimum protection. Once the diamonds are made, they are given an extra coating of non-radioactive diamond material, which makes them even safer and almost 100 percent efficient. The University of Bristol explains that the radiation that is then given off is less than what a single banana emits!

This type of creative transformation of nuclear waste into a useful clean energy source could be very beneficial in the U.S., where there are 99 nuclear reactors currently running. Big Think explained that typical nuclear power plants can create around 2,300 tons of waste each year. Storing this waste is risky for the environment and costly—Politico reports the annual U.S.cost to be around $38 billion and rising in 2013.

The second amazing feature of this battery is its lifespan. It takes carbon-14 5730 years to lose half of its radiation and therefore half of its power. So, the study claims, the battery will take about as long as the entire span of human civilization to become half as efficient.

Engadget points out that the high cost of diamond is one potential issue with the large-scale application of these batteries. The batteries are also considered to be relatively low-powered and produce 15 Joules per day (less than one AA battery). But, given their longevity, they still have a wide variety of potential applications.

"We envision these batteries to be used in situations where it is not feasible to charge or replace conventional batteries," explained Tom Scott, a professor in Materials who is working on this groundbreaking development. "Obvious applications would be in low-power electrical devices where long life of the energy source is needed, such as pacemakers, satellites, high-altitude drones or even spacecraft.”

The importance of having a long-running battery in space was illustrated by the European Space Agency's 2014 Rosetta mission, which successfully landed a probe on Churymov–Gerasimenko, a Jupiter-family comet, but could only send 64 hours of data before the battery died. Nuclear or atomic batteries have been created by NASA and other space agencies in the past and NASA has used them in over 25 missions. Stanford explained that the principle advantages of of atomic batteries are that they are long-lasting and low maintenance.

A third benefit of these new batteries is that, when completed, they are small, simple (containing one singular component) and environmentally safe. Cabot says, “there are no moving parts involved, no emissions generated and no maintenance required, just direct electricity generation. By encapsulating radioactive material inside diamonds, we turn a long-term problem of nuclear waste into a nuclear-powered battery and a long-term supply of clean energy.”

Initial prototypes have now been completed with another radiation source, the unstable isotope Nickel-63, which creates a battery with a half-life of a century (far less than carbon-14’s 5730 years). The carbon-14 prototypes are now in development.

This project was presented by Scott to sold-out crowds at the University of Bristol’s Cabot Institute’s fall 2016 “Ideas to Change the World” lecture series. Bristol University shared that this groundbreaking technology is “truly taking us into the diamond age of power generation.”

To stay updated on this project, connect with the university on Facebook and Twitter. The British team is so excited to get everyday people’s feedback and ideas about how the batteries could be used, they’ve created a social media campaign centered on #diamondbattery. Ideas mentioned online so far include using the batteries in standard vehicles, clocks, weather buoys, security lighting, interstellar probes, emergency generators, hearing aids and flying cars. FLYING CARS!

5 Epic Solar Bike Paths for Eco-Conscious Travelers and Commuters

5 Epic Solar Bike Paths for Eco-Conscious Travelers and Commuters

“Starry Night” solar bike path, Screenshot, Studio Roosegaarde on Vimeo (https://vimeo.com/111688272)

“Starry Night” solar bike path, Screenshot, Studio Roosegaarde on Vimeo (https://vimeo.com/111688272)

If you’re interested in travel, sustainability, and getting a killer workout-- solar bike paths are the newest way to cycle in style. There aren’t many around right now, but some cyclist-friendly communities around the world are pushing to creatively implement solar technology into their commuter infrastructure.

Here’s a dazzling highlight of the world’s first five solar bike paths!

SolaRoad, Netherlands

The Netherlands has been a frontrunner in the creation of solar bike paths, which is not surprising because cycling is very popular in the Netherlands and they have invested in an impressive bike infrastructure. The country is just over 16,000 square miles but holds over 22,000 miles of bike path, according to SunWorksUSA.

The Netherlands opened its 250-foot-long SolaRoad solar bike path to riders in 2015. It runs through the town of Krommenie in North Holland. One of the path’s two lanes is covered with mass-produced solar panels, which are in turn covered with a variety of protective materials including concrete, glass and silicon rubber. Unfortunately, though the path materials were thoroughly tested, after being open a month, a section of the top layer broke off and had to be repaired. Resistance to wear and weather are ongoing concerns that bring the use of these solar panel materials for heavier-vehicle roads into question.

The path is now fully operational and in the midst of a three-year trial. Over 150,000 cyclists have used the path. Cyclists seem happy with its performance, Triple Pundit reported.

Because these solar panels don’t rotate with the sun, they produce less energy than typical roof panels. But, the path’s power generation was celebrated when after six months, it produced enough power to run a home for a year, or about 3,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh). Critics of the project are unimpressed, noting that for the $3.7 million spent on this path, the Netherlands could have bought 520,000 kW of solar energy and powered 173 homes.

Starry Night Bike Lane, Netherlands

The Netherlands also opened a “Starry Night” solar bike lane in 2015, which glows for night cycling. This path was built by artist Daan Roosegaarde and Heijmans Infrastructure in the city of Nuenen where Van Gogh once lived. On the 0.6-mile-long path, 50,000 solar-powered, glow-in-the-dark stones luminesce softly to recreate Van Gogh’s trademark spiral imagery.

"You have people who are interested in technology to make landscapes which are energy neutral," the artist told NPR, when discussing the allure of this path. "You have people interested in cultural history and experiencing it in a contemporary way. You have boys and girls who have a first date and want to take their date to a special place."

While these pioneering projects in the Netherlands are still in the early stages of development, they instill hope for the future uses of solar beneath our feet and wheels. They are also cited as an inspiration for Polish and American solar bike lanes mentioned below.

Lidzbark Warminski Solar Bike Path, Poland

In the fall of 2016, glowing solar bike paths opened in Poland and the U.S. Poland, which is known to be very bike-friendly, now runs a solar bike path through its Mazury region. The 328-foot path was built by TPA Instytut Badan Technicznych (TPA). This path uses blue luminophores, luminescent particles, to absorb sunlight during the day and to glow at night for up to 10 hours, Next Nature Network reported. This solar bike lane is more expensive than a conventional one, so TPA is working to reduce the cost of production.

“The color blue was chosen for the path because the engineers thought it would best suit the scenic Mazury landscape,” according to EcoWatch. The path takes cyclists through the beautiful northern region of Kraina Tysiąca Jezior or, "land of a thousand lakes."

Texas A&M Green Bike Lanes, U.S.A.

A similar glowing path that caters to bikers can now be found at Texas A&M University at the notoriously busy Bizzell and Ross intersection. The lane is bright green and hidden in the paint is luminescent material that glows at night, increasing night cycling safety on campus.

As well as integrating a path that glows at night, this intersection emulates the Dutch style because it does not use lights. Co.Exist reports that this is the first intersection of its kind in the U.S. Cyclists are protected by a curb surrounding the bike lane as well as islands placed at the corner of each intersection. Cars stop further back than usual in a U.S. Intersection in order to allow for better visibility of cyclists and pedestrians. Clear green markings exist to lead bikes through the intersection. Previously, “there was a lot of conflict and interaction at that point," which was very busy when classes were changing, Robert Brydia, senior research scientist at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, told Co.Exist.

Texas A&M is the first university to receive Federal Highway Administration approval for the use of this special solar paint. The school is now in the process of studying the path and surveying public opinion as a means of deciding whether or not to use it elsewhere on school grounds.

Biking, in general, is much less common in the U.S.—the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that “only 1 percent of all trips taken in the U.S. are by bicycle.” The same report states that bike safety is a serious concern in the U.S. and Triple Pundit explains “that there is often confusion about bike laws” here. Also, bike lanes seem sparse in the U.S. when compared to a country like the Netherlands; SunWorksUSA shares that the U.S. has less than 50,000 miles of cycling paths in its 3.8 million square miles.

Daejeon-Sejong Bike Highway,  Korea

Another incredible solar bike path to consider is the 20-mile Korean solar bike path, instituted in 2015. This path, which travels between the cities of Daejeon to Sejong, is situated in the middle (median) of a six-lane highway. The path is intended to be used for functional commutes between the urban areas. Daejeon is South Korea's fifth-largest metropolis and Sejong is a smaller city that is home to the base of the South Korean government. The energy produced by the solar path contributes to powering the highway’s lights and electric car chargers.

Tech Times explained that cyclists can access this path through underground thruways. While the path is protected by barriers, factors such as the danger of collision and inhalation of fumes have both been raised as concerns. Like in the U.S., bike-use is not a daily choice for most Koreans. The Korean Herald reported that while “seven in 10 Koreans own a bicycle and more half of the population cycled at least once a month,” only 25 percent of Koreans use bikes for non-recreational trips such as work commutes or running errands. So, it is yet to be seen if this path designed for commuters will have a long-term appeal.

The last few years have also seen the introduction of other creative and useful applications of solar technology, like solar powered bikes and solar glitter. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Energy shared that the solar energy industry created more jobs than nuclear, oil, gas and coal combined. Even with some predictable “bumps in the road” and the persistent need to lower costs, which is typical with emerging technologies, it’s clear that solar energy is alive, well and continuously evolving.

Music: Not Impossible and DPAN Bring New Ways to Experience Music to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community

Experiencing music is a universal human right and should not be regulated by the ears’ hearing ability. DPAN (Deaf Professional Artists Network) Founder and hip-hop artist, Sean Forbes, explains that he was surrounded by music from a young age and that, “music is the only thing [he] ever wanted.” He’s also said, in a world where video and multimedia surround us, “it’s time that we make all of this content fully accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing community.” 

Not Impossible Labs (NI) CEO and Founder, Mick Ebeling, feels that, "Music is not about hearing or non-hearing, it's about inclusion.” Ebeling has a background as a film producer and describes himself as a storyteller, hacker and maker. He believes in using technology for the sake of humanity and in making the impossible, possible. 

Since being founded by Ebeling in 2009, NI has created technology-based solutions for individuals that allowed them to communicate, move, and experience sound in new and life-changing ways. These include The Eyewriter, which enables individuals with ALS to communicate with their eyes, Project Daniel, which provided a 3D printed prosthetic for an injured boy in Sudan and Music Not Impossible (MNI) provides a vibratory translation of music directly to the users’ body. MNI consists of a vest, ankle bands, wrist bands, software, and an access point for wireless communication. It conveys vibration along eight points on the user’s body and can be customized to vibrate differently in response to the song’s instruments and/or intensity. MNI is a central link in the evolving cooperation between Ebeling of NI and Forbes of DPAN.

Forbes founded DPAN in 2006 and then DPAN.TV in 2016, which produces a wide range of free programs serving the deaf and hard of hearing community, including video on demand, live streams, original series, American Sign Language (ASL) music videos, and rogue, live translations of events everyone should have equal access to, such as the 2016 Presidential Debates. DPAN can be watched on any internet-connected device, uses ASL and closed captions and also provides audio so that hearing individuals are welcomed. 

The partnership between DPAN and NI is natural and powerful; it’s founded on a shared passion for creating innovative and accessible solutions, with a focus on underserved communities. In early 2017, DPAN teamed up with Not Impossible and gifted interpreter Amber Galloway-Gallego to present a live stream of Lady Gaga’s 2017 Super Bowl LI halftime show in ASL. 

This project manifested in two main parts; first, DPAN and Galloway-Gallego provided live interpreting of the halftime show, streaming on the DPAN website and second, a party was thrown in Los Angeles for members of the deaf and hard of hearing community incorporating the halftime stream and the use of MNI. The production team for the streaming initiative and party was headed by members of the deaf and hard of hearing community.

The interpretation of Lady Gaga’s halftime performance was a perfect fit because one of MNI’s earliest launches, in October 2016, was at the Bud Light x Lady Gaga Dive Bar Tour. Also, this is Galloway-Gallego’s third time interpreting Lady Gaga’s music, and she told Not Impossible that it’s an honor to interpret the words of this amazing, energetic and “epic performer.” 

Galloway-Gallego said she experiences honor and joy interpreting music for the deaf community because “for many years, deaf people have been systematically taught that music is not for them; that it’s not a part of their culture,” and they have to “constantly fight for access.” Galloway-Gallego also explained that interpreting music is particularly special for her because, “music brings us all together in a different way; we can be from all different backgrounds, all different nationalities and all different religions but yet we can share a space and enjoy something together as one.”

The Lady Gaga halftime ASL translation and MNI party embodied Galloway-Gallego, DPAN and NI’s mission to go above and beyond to deliver music and multimedia to anyone and everyone. Hopefully, this unique collaboration is the start of a long creative partnership between DPAN and MNI, which will continue to disrupt the status quo and boost the accessibility and quality of musical experiences for the deaf and hard of hearing community.  

 

By Julia Travers

Stem Cell-based Therapy Trial Increases Paralyzed Patient’s Motor Function

Stem Cell-based Therapy Trial Increases Paralyzed Patient’s Motor Function

(public domain image)

(public domain image)

Stem cells are incredible because they can divide over and over for indefinite periods and give rise to various types of cells. As the National Institute of Health explains, “When a stem cell divides, each new cell has the potential either to remain a stem cell or become another type of cell with a more specialized function, such as a muscle cell, a red blood cell, or a brain cell.” Asterias Biotherapeutics has been carrying out a study evaluating the spinal injections of neural cells produced by stem cells for patients with spinal cord injuries. This study, “SCiStar,” had an incredible impact on the motor function and life of Kris Bosen in April 2016. His surgeon, Dr. Charles Liu, shared some insights with Not Impossible on this development. 

The SCiStar clinical trials inject “AST-OPC1” cells, which are neural cells known as oligodendrocyte progenitor cells produced from human embryonic stem cells, into the injured patient’s cervical spinal cord. Kris Bosen experienced a traumatic spinal injury in a car accident in March 2016 at age 20. He was paralyzed from the neck down when he signed up for this multicenter study at Keck Medical Center of USC. USC News explains that because the window for surgery after injury is tight and Bosen had to verbally agree to participate, he was weaned off a ventilator in an expedited fashion with the help of a respiratory care team. 

Dr. Charles Liu is the Director of the USC Neurorestoration Center and was the lead surgeon working in partnership with Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center and Keck Medicine of USC, to give Bosen a spinal cord injection of 10 million AST-OPC1 cells. Edward Wirth III, chief medical director of Asterias and lead SciStar investigator, said this is “a dose range that is the human equivalent of where we were when we saw efficacy in pre-clinical studies.”

Typical treatment for spinal cord injury includes surgery to stabilize the spine that has little effect on sensory or motor function levels. Bosen showed improvement two weeks after this procedure and three months later he experienced increased sensation and mobility in his arms and hands that allowed him to hug loved ones, use a cellphone, operate a motorized wheelchair, write his own name, and feed himself. Liu told USC News that he

 “gained significant improvement in his motor function, up to two spinal cord levels. In Kris’ case, two spinal cord levels mean the difference between using your hands to brush your teeth, operate a computer or do other things you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do, so having this level of functional independence cannot be overstated.”

Liu told Not Impossible more about the spinal injection location:

“The injections were performed in the cervical spinal cord. The location was specifically chosen in this study because if two functional levels of recovery is evident, the improvement in function can be very dramatic in terms of what the patient can do for themselves, compared to say the thoracic region, where two functional levels would result merely in some improved sensation in the trunk.”

Liu also said that “Kris's preliminary recovery really exceeded our expectations in terms of functional restoration. Typically, patients such as Kris do not recover as much function after their injury. However, our enthusiasm is always tempered and best characterized by cautious optimism.”

The most exciting part of the study for Liu personally was “that we are actually moving forward to evaluate these ‘stem cells’ that have a chance to change the prognosis for patients' lives and allow them to be more independent.”

AST-OPC1 cells are made from stem cells and are converted into oligodendrocyte progenitor cells, which USC News explains are “cells found in the brain and spinal cord that support the healthy functioning of nerve cells.” These cells were found in lab studies to promote the survival, regrowth, and conduction of nerve impulse through axons (the part of a nerve cell along which impulses are conducted) at the injury site. The cells do this by producing neurotrophic factors (biomolecules that support neuron development) and stimulating vascularization (the development of vessels in tissue). They also induce remyelination (the generation of insulating myelin sheaths) around denuded (bare) axons.

USC News explains that this clinical trial is being carried out at six sites, that enrollees must be between 18 and 69, and that “their condition must be stable enough to receive an injection of AST-OPC1 between the 14th and 30th days following injury.” Liu shared his long-term hopes for this study with us:

“For the long term, my hope is that some paradigm involving regenerative medicine and stem cells will become generally available to spinal cord injury patients.  For any early stage study involving transformative technologies, there are always three possibilities: 

1) The technology is harmful to the patient (so far, no one who has received AST-OPC1 have been made worse); 

2) The study has firmly established the technology as definitely useful (unlikely in any early-stage study); 

3) The results are promising enough to encourage expanded and controlled evaluation of the technology (it appears that this is the case with the present trial).  

Typically [the first] possibility is catastrophic and we are delighted that the present study does not fall in this category.  All of the investigators in the present trial felt that possibility 2) would be highly unlikely.  Since the present trial appears to be headed to possibility 3), all involved are quite delighted and cautiously optimistic about this approach.”

You can learn more about this incredible study and follow USC’s Keck Medical Center and Asterias Biotherapeutics on Facebook at Keck Medicine of USC and Asterias Biotherapeutics.

 

By Julia Travers

Adaptive Learning to Crowdteaching – The Future of Edtech

Education hasn’t always done the best job of keeping up with the times. Most classrooms have been structured the same way for more than 100 years. Students sit in rows, facing the front of the room, while they listen to a teacher lecture from a textbook. There are exceptions, but this arrangement has been the educational standard for generations.

 

Society has changed a great deal since the invention of the classroom, so it seems crazy that the educational system hasn’t changed too. However, a revolution is on the horizon, thanks to three education technology (edtech) trends – adaptive learning, crowdteaching, and digital textbooks.

 

Adaptive Learning – Materials That Modify in Response to Performance

 

Ask any educator and they’ll tell you that every student is different. Each student has varying strengths, weaknesses, and interests. While variety keeps teaching interesting, it also makes it more challenging. How can an educator meet the needs of every student?

 

The answer is adaptive learning, an online teaching method that modifies materials in response to student performance. By tracking a student’s progress, the data-driven program is able to adjust the curriculum to make it more challenging or more remedial, depending on the needs of the student. Teachers can also use the information provided by adaptive learning to become better educators. It’s a winning combination for everyone involved in education.

 

Adaptive learning is an excellent solution for all types of instruction. While perfectly suited for distance learning, it’s also a powerful tool for classroom teachers, allowing them to track student performance and adapt their teaching methods to reach students of varying levels. Additional benefits include improved student understanding, increased engagement for tech-savvy learners, and more time for educators to provide small group and one-on-one instruction.

 

An example of adaptive learning is CogBooks, a cloud-based learning platform which provides educators with real-time reports on student performance. The platform is designed to “define the next generation of education, empowering teachers and institutions like never before.” CogBooks has received rave reviews. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded them a $2 million grant to develop additional adaptive courses for college students. Arizona State University tested the platform in two of their courses, and 80 percent of students gave it positive reviews.

 

Crowdteaching – Expanding the Reach of Education

 

One of the beautiful things about edtech is that it makes education more accessible than ever before. Crowdteaching, which allows teachers to create an online curriculum that’s open to anyone with an internet connection, is a prime example of this new educational accessibility. The crowdteaching movement is gaining momentum, as thousands of educators have made high quality content available to online learners around the world – at no cost.

 

One of the best known examples of crowdteaching is Khan Academy, which offers free online instruction to students of all ages in subjects like math, science, test prep, computing, arts and humanities, and economics. The website “offers practice exercises, instructional videos, and a personalized learning dashboard” to help students study at their own pace. To involve all parties in the process, Khan Academy also offers resources for parents and educators. A separate dashboard allows teachers and parents to see a summary of class performance as well as detailed profiles for individual students.

 

Although Khan Academy is the most popular platform, it’s far from the only example of crowdteaching. There are countless online resources that are helping students around the world learn about every subject imaginable. For example, Phonar is a free undergraduate photography course. While the in-person class is attended by 20 students, it’s also open to thousands of online learners at the same time. Online students have access to audio-recorded lectures, class assignments, and discussions. So far, more than 10,000 visitors from 107 countries have participated in the course.

 

As an added bonus, many crowdteaching websites partner with experts to provide specialized content. Khan Academy’s partners include The California Academy of Sciences, MIT, The Museum of Modern Art, and NASA, while Phonar gives students the chance to interact with famous photographers. Without crowdteaching, online learners wouldn’t have access to the educational content provided by these renowned individuals and institutions.

 

Digital Textbooks – From Expensive Paper Text to Affordable Digital Content

 

Physical textbooks have been a classroom staple for decades, but the world is shifting away from paper books in favor of digital ones. There are two distinct types of digital texts, e-textbooks and open textbooks. Many textbook publishers offer e-textbooks, which are a digital alternative to traditional printed textbooks. For approximately half the price of traditional textbooks, students can read, highlight, and search digital text on a laptop or tablet.

 

In contrast to e-textbooks, open textbooks, or open educational resources (OER), are freely distributed online under a copyright license that grants permission to reuse, revise, and redistribute the content. This “some rights reserved” copyright license allows students to do things that are impossible with e-textbooks, including copying, editing, mixing, and sharing – all for free. The appeal is clear. The Educause Center for Analysis and Research found that 71 percent of students in 2013 utilized OER, a 46 percent increase from 2010.

 

All of these edtech trends – adaptive learning, crowdteaching, and digital textbooks – have distinct advantages for modern learners and educators. Increased customization, accessibility, and affordability are among the most appealing aspects of these educational innovations. It seems that this is only the beginning of a long-awaited education revolution. 

 

-By Shannon Flynn

Scientist Pierre Calleja’s Algae-Based Lamp Creates an Eco-Friendly Glow

bioluminescent algae, public domain image 

bioluminescent algae, public domain image 

Bioluminescence, or the ability to produce light, is probably one of the most fascinating attributes a living organism can have. A French scientist and aquaculture pioneer named Pierre Calleja created a lamp harnessing the property of bioluminescence in algae that cleans the air around it while providing electricity-free lighting. 

Bioluminescence

Bioluminescence can be observed in fireflies, species of jellyfish, deep sea fish, fungi, plankton, algae and other organisms. The term derives from the Greek bio (life) and the Latin lumen (light). It is a form of chemiluminescence or the emission of light resulting from a chemical reaction. Luciferin is a pigment that can emit light when oxidized (when electrons are removed in reaction) by the enzyme luciferase, and this is the most common cause of bioluminescence. Luciferin is sometimes already present in the glowing organism and is sometimes obtained through their diet. Bioluminescence is used by organisms for signaling, mating, and counter-illumination camouflage (in which light is produced to blend into an illuminated background like the sky). Bioluminescence can appear in various shades of white, blue, orange, red and green. 

bioluminescent jellyfish, public domain image

bioluminescent jellyfish, public domain image

The Algae Lamp

Calleja’s innovative cylindrical lamp harnesses the bioluminescence and photosynthesis of marine microalgae and is intended to be a street lamp. Smithsonian magazine explains that while absorbing light and carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, the lamp also emits oxygen and a fluorescent green glow, so is, essentially, “nature’s all-in-one version of a solar panel, a carbon sink and a light bulb.” These algae lamps are far more efficient at removing CO2 from the air than trees. Inhabitat explains that “a single lamp could absorb roughly a ton of carbon from the air in just one year—the same amount as 150 or 200 trees.” 

Another potential positive environmental impact is the removal of the algae from bodies of water experiencing toxic algal blooms, which are extremely harmful to marine life. Like many solar-based systems, the algae lamp comes with a battery that stores the energy it produces through photosynthesis so that it can be used in the darkness. Engineering.com shares that Calleja compares the oceans and plants of the Earth to two lungs and says that he wants to use his algae-based lamps to help the Earth breathe. In his 2013 TED Talk about this lamp, Calleja said the light produced is “special” and “soft” because “it goes through a live animal.” Select the image below to visit his TED talk on YouTube. 

Potential complications and critiques for the widespread implementation of this type of lighting do exist. They include the fragility and weight of the glass lamp, the likely buildup of residue inside the lamp over time and the concern that as the algae expands, it could actually begin to block out light. 

Humans have long been drawn to the potential of bioluminescence. Hakai Magazine of Coastal Science reports that there are early records of it being used for lantern-making in Rome and Indonesia as early as 20 AD. In 1747, Benjamin Franklin wrote that “It is indeed possible that an extremely small animalcule, too small to be visible even by the best glasses, may yet give a visible light.” Naval forces around the world have tried to harness bioluminescence for vessel tracking. Additional military studies focus on the potential use of bioluminescence for biodegradable helicopter landing zones, security systems and friend versus foe ID markers. Other modern designs for algae lamps have come into existence as well and a design for a federal building utilizing algae farms for energy won Metropolis Magazine’s 2011 “Next Generation” design competition.

Pierre Calleja and Fermentalg

This algae lamp’s inventor has a long and rich background as a biologist, chemist, and aquaculture inventor and entrepreneur. His LinkedIn bio explains that he “specialized on microalgae in the early 80s, convinced by their strong potential and exceptional properties that open the way for a lot of applications in several areas of production.” Calleja’s early work with France Aquaculture focused on researching and developing marine farm larval breeding techniques. In the early 90s, he founded Kurios as a subsidiary of Sanofi Aquaculture and developed unique larval feed and fish feeding supplements. Kurios was highly financially successful and Calleja sold it in 2000 before focusing on how to mass produce algae with IFREMER (The Institut français de recherche pour l'exploitation de la mer / French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea). 

In 2007, he acquired two microalgae farming patents and founded Fermentalg Société Anonyme. Fermentalg released the algae lamps in 2012 and has demoed them in parking areas in southern France. Calleja explained to Algae Industry Magazine that Fermentalg also exploits microalgae’s exceptional properties in order to “produce molecules of interest such as the omega-3 fatty acids, coloring agents, antioxidants and biopolymers, etc. that we integrate and use in our everyday products.” They’ve also harnessed algae to create a biofuel with lower carbon emissions than petroleum-based fuels. Calleja served as Fermentalg’s chief executive officer until 2015 and as the chairman until 2016. In 2015, he created Planet Forever to further develop processes that can use algae for depollution. 

You can learn more about Fermentalg’s work with various microalgae on their website and Facebook page. If your curiosity into bioluminescence is piqued or renewed, you may want to seek out a location in which you can view and even swim in glowing water filled with luminescing microorganisms, such as Malta, California, or Japan. Growing Plant sells seeds, plants, and maker kits for those who want a bioluminescent house plant and Instructables offers free instructions, which they do say require patience, to grow your own bioluminescent algae at home. 

-By Julia Travers

A New Year and New Trends in Women’s Health

The year 2017 is ushering in a new wave of life-changing tech innovations. One area that looks particularly promising is women’s health. While last year introduced the Bluetooth-enabled “smart tampon” with its impractical design and a plethora of security concerns, this year appears to offer much more promising technologies for women.

 

From innovations in needleless breast reconstruction and blood tests for endometriosis to free birth control delivery and at-home fertility tests, the landscape of women’s health is changing – for the better.

 

The New Trend in Breast Reconstruction – Say Goodbye to Saline and Needles

 

The number of women facing double mastectomies is increasing, and so is the number of breast cancer patients who are deciding whether to undergo post-mastectomy breast reconstruction. For the last few decades, a woman who decided on breast reconstruction had to endure saline injections to expand the tissue in her chest and make room for breast implants. Not only is the process painful, but it’s also inconvenient. In fact, the process of receiving saline injections can require up to two months of weekly doctor appointments.

 

However, patients seeking breast reconstruction may be able to put this pain and inconvenience behind them with a needleless device called AeroForm. Instead of saline injections, the wireless tissue expander system delivers small amounts of carbon dioxide through an internal valve to expand the chest wall tissue. Patients can use the device at home with a remote. Best of all, there’s no need for needles or multiple visits to the doctor’s office.

 

Columbia University has been leading a clinical trial to test the safety and efficacy of AeroForm. During a Phase 2 trial, the 150 women who used the device completed tissue expansion an average of 25 days faster than women who opted for traditional saline injections. As a result, the women who used AeroForm were able to undergo breast reconstruction surgery one month earlier than women in the saline group. Additionally, 98 percent of patients reported that the device was easy to use.

 

Easy and effective seems like a winning combination, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) seemed to agree. In December, the FDA approved AeroForm for breast reconstruction – and to treat underdeveloped breasts and soft tissue deformities. A victory for the creators of the device and for women seeking breast reconstruction.

 

A Blood Test for Endometriosis – No More Invasive Tests

Endometriosis is a disease that impacts approximately one in 10 women around the world. The condition, which occurs when the uterine lining grows outside of the uterus, is often painful and is a common cause of infertility. Invasive surgery was once the only way to definitively diagnose endometriosis.

 

Heather Bowerman, CEO of Dot Laboratories, wanted to change this reality for women with endometriosis. To accomplish this goal, the lab has developed a diagnostic blood test to determine whether a woman has endometriosis. This simple test should be ready for launch in mid-2017, and it could eliminate the need for invasive and painful diagnostic testing.

 

Dot Laboratories is also developing an inexpensive and easy way to test female hormones and track them online. To take advantage of the service, a woman would provide a saliva sample at specific times during the month and she would mail the samples to the lab. The lab would then process the samples and provide data about the woman’s hormone levels. Although the process is still undergoing beta testing, Bowerman plans to release this tool in 2017. It looks like this year will be a big one for Dot Laboratories.

 

An At-Home Fertility Test – A Substitute for Fertility Blood Tests

 

About one out of eight couples have trouble getting pregnant, and approximately 12% of women have received infertility services during their lifetime. Katie Brenner, a postdoctoral fellow of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, was one of these women. After she found herself struggling to conceive, she realized that existing fertility tests were lacking and she created bluDiagnostics.

 

bluDiagnostics is developing an at-home, saliva-based test known as Fertility Finder. The test measures the presence of two female hormones – estradiol and progesterone. Fertility Finder will serve as an ovulation kit and a pregnancy test, while also identifying hormonal problems that could be responsible for a woman’s fertility issues. The results of the test will be sent to the patient’s cell phone via the company’s mobile app and to her physician.

 

The next step is to prove the efficacy of the test in clinical trials. If successful, Fertility Finder could replace traditional blood tests performed in a medical clinic – undoubtedly, a welcome development for patients with a fear of needles.

 

A Free Birth Control Delivery Service – Uber Meets the Pill

 

Uber has revolutionized the way people travel – and the idea behind the service is about to change the way women receive birth control. A startup called Nurx is being called “Uber for birth control.” The service is designed to make contraceptives more accessible to women. Rather than dealing with her doctor’s office and pharmacy, a woman can use the Nurx desktop platform or app to get on-demand birth control.

 

A woman can visit the Nurx platform and enter her personal health information, including her preferred form of birth control. Then, Nurx handles the rest. The service contacts the woman’s doctor, sends the prescription to a local pharmacy, and even arranges for free delivery. Women can get as much as a three-month supply of contraceptives overnight.

 

Right now, the company is serving California, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, and Washington D.C. Nurx also plans to expand to other areas of the United States. The company’s goal is to improve access to contraceptives, giving every woman “convenient access to birth control where and when she needs it.”

 

The world of women’s health will see a surge of technological innovations in 2017. Women – and the world as a whole – will only benefit from increased attention to the health needs impacting half of the planet.

 

-By Shannon Flynn

Shine On With Solar Cookers International

Shine On With Solar Cookers International

Solar Cookers are extremely useful and simple inventions that provide many people around the world with heat for cooking and boiling water as well as increased safety and free time. Through the use of a solar cooker, the sun’s light is converted into heat energy that is then retained and used for cooking. Energy Central reports that growing awareness of renewable energy sources, the rising costs of non-renewable energy sources, and government support and funding for the use of solar energy are all factors that stimulate and “drive the solar cooker market.” Solar Cookers International (SCI) is an organization whose dedicated staff, Board members, volunteers, donors, and project partners collaborate to harness “free, zero-emission solar energy to help people and the environment.” SCI was founded in 1987 in California as Solar Box Cookers International. 

Svetlana Hristova is the Outreach Associate at SCI and she told us about her work with them and their many solar cooker initiatives around the globe. At SCI, Hristova manages “communications efforts including social media, our bi-weekly SCI Digest, event coordination, public relations, and assists with coordinating our volunteer and advocacy efforts.” Needless to say, she is very well-informed about their solar cooker work and products. Here’s her description of the Cookit, their unique, lightweight, and portable solar cooker design: 

“The CooKit is made of cardboard and foil, shaped to reflect maximum sunlight onto a black cooking pot that converts sunlight into thermal (heat) energy. A heat-resistant bag (or similar transparent cover) surrounds the pot, acting like a greenhouse by allowing sunlight to hit the pot and preventing heat from escaping. It weighs about a pound and folds to the size of a large book for easy transport. The CooKit was originally made for refugee camps but it’s such a simple solar cooker to use, so we have the design plans available for free on our website and solar cooking wiki so that anyone can build their own. We also sell them through our online store.”

If you are ready to build your own solar cooker, you can download SCI’s guide, Solar Cookers: How to Make, Use, and Enjoy, which includes solar cooking plans, concepts, and recipes, as well as teaching resources. On their site, their store sells solar cookers, ovens, grills, and other devices. The funds from sales support SCI’s international solar cooking mission. 

Solar cookers are easy to build and they tackle serious problems with a simple solution. Here are some of the ways Hristova says their solar cookers are put to good use:

“The benefits are truly numerous. Firstly, solar cookers don’t require any fuel (other than sunshine, of course) and don’t produce any emissions, so not only are they a cost-effective tool but also they help the environment by mitigating deforestation and climate change. In addition, using a solar cooker also helps women and children avoid the dangers of indoor air pollution caused by cooking fires (a leading cause of respiratory disease, eye disease, and debilitating or fatal burns).

Using a solar cooker also reduces the need for women to have to look for firewood, which is often a dangerous task. Thousands of women in remote areas have to hike 10 miles or more to find scarce firewood, which exposes them to being beaten or raped. Not only does using a solar cooker reduce the need for women to have to travel far from home, but it also frees up their time for education and economy-building tasks.”

Family members who live safer lives and have extra time and money can pursue educational, business, and personal goals, or as SCI put it, “simply rest.” 

Where does SCI carry out their solar cooker education and distribution programs? All over the world--they have 500 partners in 133 countries. Hristova says they,

“currently have three projects that we directly support in Nepal, Kenya, and Tanzania in which we provide funding and program supervision to have solar cookers built and distributed locally in the community. By having the solar cookers built locally, not only do we support the local economy and create jobs but also avoid excessive international shipping charges and shipments getting lost. SCI also has consultative status at the United Nations – our representatives regularly participate in UN events, contribute to working groups, and host presentations.” 

Hristova feels that “letting people know about this simple but effective tool that literally everyone can use and benefit from” is the most important aspect of SCI’s work. “Rarely,” she adds, “does one activity offer such far-reaching benefits. There are still many people who don’t even know that solar cooking exists or have trouble believing that it works. We hope that one day, everyone will be solar cooking their meals!” SCI has distributed 3.1 million solar cookers worldwide and 11 million people have been directly impacted by solar cooking through SCI. They have been honored numerous times for their work, including through winning a 2002 Ashden Award for their work in Kenya and 2006 World Renewable Energy Award. Solar Cookers International is hosting the 6th SCI World Conference in India in January of 2017, “to bring the latest industry updates and best practices to solar cooking experts, program leaders, innovators, and educators.” 

You can find more information about their work and how anyone can get involved by following them on their Facebook page and visiting them at www.solarcookers.org, where they encourage us all to “Shine on!” 

-By Julia Travers

“Nothing Frightens Me Anymore:” How an Engineer Invented a Repair for his Heart

“Nothing Frightens Me Anymore:” How an Engineer Invented a Repair for his Heart

Imagine having a condition that effects your heart and knowing that a necessary major surgery is imminent and will be followed by taking blood thinning medication for the rest of your life. Now, imagine deciding not to undergo the recommended surgery and coming up with your own, customized heart implant. This is the path that the innovative engineer Tal Golesworthy took when he avoided the prescribed heart surgery for his Marfan syndrome, invented the Personalized External Aortic Root Support (PEARS), and was its first recipient in 2004. 

Marfan Syndrome

Marfan syndrome is a genetic connective tissue disorder. For patients with Marfan syndrome, the tissue made of proteins that holds organs in shape and in place can develop problems due to a genetic protein defect. The eyes, joints, bones, lungs, and other areas of the body can be affected, including the aorta of the heart. The aorta is the main vessel that pumps blood out of the heart. With Marfan syndrome, it can become stretched out instead of relaxing after each pump and eventually burst. This is the situation that Golesworthy was potentially facing. The BBC explains that the complex prescripted surgery “includes replacing the stretched segment of the aorta with an artificial graft. Sometimes surgeons also have to put metal valves inside the heart to replace ones that are cut out,” along with the need for blood-thinning medication. Blood-thinners, which can sometimes make even slight falls dangerous, are often unpopular with active individuals and Golesworthy was both generally active and a skier. He shared with us that he also enjoys clay pigeon shooting, deer stalking, music, 20 century European history, and has been married for 35 years to Teresa.

Personalized External Aortic Root Support

(public domain image)

Golesworthy is a Chartered Engineer, Information Scientist, and Member of the Royal Society of Chemistry with decades of experience in research and development, which helped him to come up with a creative solution to his dilemma. His background includes working with combustion systems, cyclone development, and intelligent filter controller, among other specializations. He has won two SMART (Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation) Awards for developing low-cost pollution control solutions for domestic scale coal combustion in Poland. Despite his extensive expertise, he is able to describe the concept for his PEARS invention in very relatable terms: “If the hosepipe is bulging, I must get some insulation tape and wrap it round the outside of the hosepipe to stop it bulging.”

More specifically, Golesworthy envisioned and developed a customized sleeve tailored to his aorta which is sewn in place to secure and support the aorta and keep it from growing. But first, Golesworthy had to line up funding and willing surgeons. He started a company called Exstent as part of his efforts to find investors and he pitched his PEARS concept at a Marfan Association annual meeting. There, he met and intrigued Tom Treasure, who was a surgeon at Guy's Hospital London at the time and now works with the Clinical Operational Research Unit at University College, London. Golesworthy, Treasure, John Pepper of the Royal Brompton Hospital London, and engineers from the Imperial College London, among others, collaborated for four years to develop the PEARS process. Golesworthy told us that first, they had to choose an image acquisition system “for the feasibility period of the project;” either Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or X-ray Computer Tomography (CT).  Here’s more on that choice and their early challenges, in Golesworthy’s words: 

“As image resolution for MRI and CT was similar when the PEARS project began, and knowing that some considerable time was going to be required in developing a scanning protocol for PEARS, it was decided that MRI would be the safer option. In the event some 30 patient hours were spent in the CAMRIC CMRI scanner at the Royal Brompton Hospital by the author before an appropriate scanning protocol was finalized…the critical imaging resolution was related to the coronary arteries that emerge from the aortic root…Correctly identifying and placing these structures on the aortic model is a critical function as it ensures that the finished implant will not impose pressure on the coronary arteries and compromise coronary blood flow and it informs the surgeon as to the position of the coronary arteries on the aortic root; a critical step in ensuring the safe mobilization of the left coronary artery (LCA) prior to implantation of the ExoVasc® device.”  

Another challenge that comes up when imaging the heart is that it is always moving. To avoid the image distortions this can cause, cardiac gating, similar to stop-motion photography, was used, and the patient (Golesworthy) also held his breath to minimize movement. The scans that were taken of Golesworthy’s heart were then converted through CAD and 3D printing into a 3D model. The model was immersed in polymers and the sleeve shape was molded. Mosaic Science explains that the sausage-shaped sleeve is woven out of polyethylene terephthalate, a thermoplastic polymer resin. In 2004, Golesworthy underwent the successful two-hour operation at Royal Brompton Hospital, which he said was “the scariest day of [his] life.” Since the operation, his aorta has been functioning well. Here’s how Golesworthy felt about the successful procedure and healthy resulting lifestyle:

“I am living a life so ‘normal’ that all the usual banalities have crowded in to irritate: work, money, the health of other family members, etc., but I have a freedom and emancipation that only an experience as profound as cardiothoracic surgery (or similar) can bring. Nothing frightens me anymore, I feel able to express myself without let or hindrance and I can live as I will.” 

Tal Golesworthy

Mosaic also shares that PEARS is not the right solution for all patients; it could be too risky for those with an extremely enlarged aortas but is a good choice for those in early stages of the disease. Golesworthy says “the scanning, CAD modelling and manufacture of the ExoVasc® has only changed in respect of detail changes in the CAD modelling software and the cleaning regime for the textile implant itself. In essence, the process used is the same today as it was for P1 in May 2004.” Numerous patients have now received successfully been treated with PEARS (over 20 in 2016 and 87 total) and you can read about some of their experiences in their own words here. Andrew Ellis, for example, is an athlete who underwent the procedure in 2008 and whose biological father died of the same heart condition in his twenties. This is an excerpt from his reflection on the experience: 

“It means I will not have to take Warfarin [blood thinner] for the rest of my life, as I would have had to do if I had undergone the existing, recognized Bentall procedure. For me, there can simply be no price, value, or words attached to that which could possibly sum up what that means.”

In December of 2011, PEARS won The Engineer’s Medical & Healthcare innovation award at the Royal Society. Patient Innovation is a website that enables patients who develop their own illness solutions to share their ideas and experiences. Golesworthy was one of their first guest speakers and won one of their annual Innovation Awards in 2015. Golesworthy shared in November of 2016, “We’ve got new surgeons and new centers. We’ve just done four patients in New Zealand, and they’re really pleased. We’ve got centers in the Czech Republic, a couple in Poland are about to start, and we’re getting two more in the UK.” He explained that his hopes for his invention, which has now evolved into three types of procedures, are that “as many patients as possible get access to PEARS as a surgical option: their choice of PEARS, Total Root Replacement (TRR), or Valve Sparing Root Replacement (VSRR) is theirs to make but they deserve to be offered all 3 principal surgical options.”

You can learn more about PEARS at the Marfan Aortic Root Support site

By Julia Travers

SKYCOOL SYSTEMS WINS INAUGURAL NOT IMPOSSIBLE AWARD FOR ITS INNOVATIVE TECHNOLOGY THAT MAKES COOLING MORE SUSTAINABLE AND COST-EFFECTIVE

SKYCOOL SYSTEMS WINS INAUGURAL NOT IMPOSSIBLE AWARD FOR ITS INNOVATIVE TECHNOLOGY THAT MAKES COOLING MORE SUSTAINABLE AND COST-EFFECTIVE

—SkyCool Systems’ Breakthrough Technology Reduces Electricity Use, Ensures Zero Water Loss

 

Las Vegas, NV, January 5, 2017Not Impossible, in partnership with the United Nations Foundation and Fiserv, today announced that SkyCool Systems is the winner of the inaugural Not Impossible Awards, which recognize and celebrate the people, companies, technology and transformational inventions that help bring positive change to the global community. SkyCool Systems, based in San Francisco, was selected from more than 270 submissions representing more than 40 countries.

 

SkyCool Systems harnesses an untapped renewable resource, the sky, to improve the efficiency of cooling and refrigeration systems dramatically. Their core product is a roof-mounted panel that is a simple add-on to new and existing cooling systems. It cools water using minimal electricity and without evaporating water.

Mick Ebeling (Founder and CEO, Not Impossible) and Fiserv's Katherine Beacham, present the inaugural Not Impossible Award to Taylor Steindel of SkyCool Systems.

Mick Ebeling (Founder and CEO, Not Impossible) and Fiserv's Katherine Beacham, present the inaugural Not Impossible Award to Taylor Steindel of SkyCool Systems.

 

“Air conditioning and refrigeration systems consume 17% of electricity generated worldwide, and are responsible for 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions,” explained Aaswath Raman, Co-Founder of SkyCool Systems. “With electricity use for cooling projected to grow tenfold by 2050, the status quo is no longer an option – so we took action. We developed a system that uses breakthrough technology to make cooling more sustainable and cost-effective by reducing electricity use and ensuring zero water loss. It can also make off-grid cooling for critical needs possible in underserved areas around the world.” 

 

The beauty of it is that it’s clean, renewable and operates 24/7,” said Mick Ebeling, Founder and CEO of Not Impossible. “Importantly, it has broader applications and can be applied to industries such as building and refrigeration, so there’s tremendous potential for this company to truly make a difference in the parts of the world that need it most.”

 

The Not Impossible Awards honor innovations that celebrate technology for the sake of humanity and align with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which represent progress towards a better planet. One finalist was selected from each of six categories. In addition to SkyCool Systems, which took home top honors in the Energy category as well as the overall competition, the other category winners were: 

 

TRANSPORTATION – Drones4Humanity 

HEALTHCARE – ECOLOO 

MOBILITY – Imhanya 

COMMUNICATION – REFUNITE 

EDUCATION – Rumie 

 

“SkyCool is a self-contained, material science innovation that passively cools. It is among the best-in-class of material advances that will change the role of architecture and civil engineering,” said Nicholas Negroponte, Founder and Chair, MIT Media Lab, and Founder, One Laptop per Child Association, and one of this year’s judges. “Most innovations to date propose to change the color of water, roads and rooftops. This one changes the physics. Bravo.”

 

 

In addition to Mr. Negropante, judges for the Not Impossible Awards included:

 

Kathy Calvin: President & CEO,  UN Foundation

Shepard Fairey: Founder, OBEY Clothing

Dan Hilferty: President & CEO, Independence Blue Cross, Inc.

Daniel Kraft, M.D.: Founding Executive Director & Chair, Exponential Medicine 

Kate Krukiel: Director of Strategic Partnerships, Microsoft 

Jessica O. Matthews: Founder and CEO, Uncharted Play

Jean Oelwang: President and Trustee, Virgin Unite 

Britt Zarling: Vice President of Corporate Communications, Fiserv

 

For more information, please visit www.notimpossible.com or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

 

About Not Impossible: Launched in 2009, Not Impossible Labs makes the impossible possible by creating accessible technology-based solutions primarily in the areas of health, mobility and communication. Not Impossible’s first project The Eyewriter is an open source, low-cost, DIY device that enable individuals with paralysis to communicate and create using only the movement of their eyes. Time Magazine named the Eyewriter one of the "Top 50 Inventions of 2010" and the device is now part of MoMA's permanent collection. Project Daniel inspired the first 3D-printed prosthetic arm for those impacted by war in South Sudan. The Don’s Voice project resulted in a digital communications interface for ALS patient Don Moir, allowing him to audibly communicate. Both projects were awarded SXSW Interactive Innovation Awards in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Learn more at www.notimpossible.com.

NOT IMPOSSIBLE NAMES 2017 AWARD FINALISTS:  WINNER TO BE ANNOUNCED AT CES®2017

NOT IMPOSSIBLE NAMES 2017 AWARD FINALISTS: WINNER TO BE ANNOUNCED AT CES®2017

—Awards drew more than 270 submissions, representing over 40 countries—

LOS ANGELES, CA, December 22, 2016Not Impossible, in partnership with the United Nations Foundation, has named the six category finalists for the first annual Not Impossible Awards, which recognize and celebrate the people, companies, technology and transformational inventions that help bring positive change to the global community. The winner will be announced on January 5 during CES® 2017 in Las Vegas.

 

“These awards drew an incredibly strong and diverse group of organizations and innovators and we were truly inspired by the scope and creativity of the projects,” said Mick Ebeling, Founder and CEO of Not Impossible. “With projects ranging from remote online learning tools to literal and recyclable container stores, it’s truly amazing to see the impact technology can have on the lives of those in need and realize our potential to make a difference on a global level. These Not Impossible Awards are just a glimpse of what’s actually possible.”

 

The Not Impossible Awards honor innovations that celebrate technology for the sake of humanity worldwide and align with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which represent progress towards a better planet. One finalist was selected from each of the following six categories – Communication, Education, Energy, Healthcare, Mobility and Transportation. They include: 

 

COMMUNICATION – REFUNITE – REFUNITE reconnects refugee families across the globe with missing loved ones through a global database of over 560,000 profiles. The company empowers refugees and displaced people to take the search for missing loved ones into their own hands, whether through a mobile phone, a computer or free help lines. The company is partnered with Ericsson and the United Nations, with locations in Denmark, Kenya and the United States.

EDUCATION – Rumie – Based in Toronto, Canada, Rumie has developed the “LearnCloud,” a new and affordable model of education designed to support underserved communities worldwide. The program and its free, high-quality learning tools can be accessed by anyone using Rumie tablets and is designed specifically for those located remote, resource-constrained communities. 

ENERGY – SkyCool – Air conditioning & refrigeration systems consume 17% of electricity generated worldwide and are responsible for 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The future of cooling and refrigeration, SkyCool uses breakthrough technology to make cooling more sustainable and cost-effective by reducing electricity use and ensuring zero water loss. The company is based in San Francisco, California.

HEALTHCARE – ECOLOO – This green innovation company, based in Sweden, has created a patented toilet system, called ECOLOO, that is odorless, waterless, and sewage and maintenance free. It employs bacterial culture to treat waste and create organic fertilizer that is pathogen free and rich with nutrition, and requires no energy to operate.

MOBILITY – Imhanya – Based in Harare, Zimbabwe, Imhanya provides poverty alleviation solutions that include recycled shipping containers that are repurposed to serve as booths or shopping centers. These container solutions are safe, secure, weather-proof structures that operate via solar energy and liquefied petroleum gas. 

 

TRANSPORTATION – Drones4Humanity – Drones4Humanity, based in Toronto, Canada, has developed an artificial intelligence-driven guidance drone, known as the “HumanityONE Drone,” which surveys damaged areas, delivers humanitarian aid supplies and transports portable rescuing equipment.

 

Learn more about the awards from Mick Ebeling in this video.

 

These companies were recognized for their ability to address global issues through original, cutting-edge technologies. “When you look at the wonderful submissions we received – and this is only a snapshot of what’s happening in breakthrough technology around the globe – it’s just further proof that inspired minds can accomplish great things, and that the sky really is the limit,” said Kathy Calvin, President and CEO of the UN Foundation. “We are proud to partner with Not Impossible to honor these innovations.”

 

Judges for the Not Impossible Awards included:

 

Kathy Calvin: President & CEO,  UN Foundation

Shepard Fairey: Founder, OBEY Clothing

Dan Hilferty: President & CEO, Independence Blue Cross, Inc.

Daniel Kraft, M.D.: Founding Executive Director & Chair, Exponential Medicine 

Kate Krukiel: Director of Strategic Partnerships, Microsoft 

Jessica O. Matthews: Founder and CEO, Uncharted Play

Nicholas Negroponte: Founder & Chair, MIT Media Lab. Founder, One Laptop per Child Association

Jean Oelwang: President and Trustee, Virgin Unite 

Britt Zarling: Vice President of Corporate Communications, Fiserv

 

For more information, please visit www.notimpossible.com or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

 

About Not Impossible: Launched in 2009, Not Impossible Labs makes the impossible possible by creating accessible technology-based solutions primarily in the areas of health, mobility and communication. Not Impossible’s first project The Eyewriter is an open source, low-cost, DIY device that enable individuals with paralysis to communicate and create using only the movement of their eyes. Time Magazine named the Eyewriter one of the "Top 50 Inventions of 2010" and the device is now part of MoMA's permanent collection. Project Daniel inspired the first 3D-printed prosthetic arm for those impacted by war in South Sudan. The Don’s Voice project resulted in a digital communications interface for ALS patient Don Moir, allowing him to audibly communicate. Both projects were awarded SXSW Interactive Innovation Awards in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Learn more at www.notimpossible.com.

 

###

Media Contacts:

 

Molly Wade,             Lori Neuman

Voce Communications        GLA Communications

mwade@vocecomm.com     Lori@glapr.com

(508) 864-1404              (973)564-8591 x105

Office Workers Take Notice: You Can Burn Calories While Sitting in This Chair

The TAO Chair is designed to work out different muscle groups, using a form of isometrics.

We were talking with one of our Not Impossible co-workers just yesterday about the benefits of standing desks when, lo and behold, we came across a LiveScience story today about the best health tech from last week’s CES 2015, which included the TAO Chair by fitness startup TAO Wellness. According to their site, “TAO Chair’s strong design and imbedded electronics enable you to burn calories while watching TV.” 

We’ll take any form of exercise where we can get it, and we’re sure that office workers around the country would agree. After all, a 2014 study suggested that “under-exercising, rather than overeating, may be at the heart of America's obesity epidemic,” according to a Los Angeles Times report. But burn calories while sitting in a chair? How is that even possible? 

Photo courtesy of TAO Wellness

Photo courtesy of TAO Wellness

TAO Wellness explains that the chair is designed to work out different “muscle groups all over your body,” using a form of isometrics. So this chair is a little bit like the equipment at your gym that you never go to.

We ended up watching a YouTube video of CNET editor Eric Franklin, who took the TAO Chair for a spin during CES 2015, to get a better idea of how it worked.

“I can feel it working my lats right now, I can feel it working my biceps,” Franklin says, as he pulls on the specially designed arm rests.

That account alone may convince us to pick up a TAO Chair for ourselves, so we can burn some calories while binge watching “The Blacklist.”

CNET reports that the TAO Chair will be available during the holidays this year.

See the TAO Chair in action by watching the CNET video below:

Top photo courtesy of TAO Wellness

You Can Ride a Bus Fueled by Human Waste

The Bio-Bus seats 40 people and can travel 186 miles on one tank of biomethane gas.

Photo courtesy of GENeco’s Facebook page

Photo courtesy of GENeco’s Facebook page

When it comes to alternative fuel for vehicles, electricity and hydrogen immediately come to mind. Human waste? Not so much. But a UK-based company called GENeco has managed to create a bus that runs entirely on food waste and human sewage. 

The Bio-Bus seats 40 people and can travel 186 miles on one tank of biomethane gas, which “requires roughly the annual waste of five people to fill,” Quartz reports

Mohammed Saddiq, the managing director of GENeco, said in a press release that “the bus is powered by people living in the local area [of Bristol], including quite possibly those on the bus itself.” 

The Bio-Bus emits 30 percent less carbon dioxide than traditional diesel fuel. And Saddiq told CNBC that the bus will also be able to reduce harmful emissions by 97 percent and improve overall urban air quality. 

In 2010, GENeco conducted their first biomethane gas experiment by launching the UK’s first Volkswagen Beetle that runs on human waste. Currently, human waste is being used to heat thousands of homes in the UK. According to CNN, experts estimate that biomethane gas produced from sewage could replace around 10 percent of the UK’s entire domestic gas needs. In the race to find more sustainable energy resources, biomethane gas could be a legitimate contender. 

“The very fact that [the Bio-Bus is] running in the city should help to open up a serious debate about how buses are best fueled, and what is good for the environment,” James Freeman, the managing director of First West of England, told The Guardian.

Learn more about at GENeco their website and in the video below:

Top photo courtesy of GENeco’s Facebook page

The ‘Not Impossible’ Book Is Available in Stores and Online Now: Read an Excerpt!

From Eyewriter and Project Daniel, from "Technology for the Sake of Humanity" to "HelpOneHelpMany," we preview the new book by Not Impossible’s own founder Mick Ebeling.

Can I really make the impossible possible? That’s the question Not Impossible's own Mick Ebeling asks himself in his new book “Not Impossible: The Art and Joy of Doing What Couldn't Be Done.” 

In the book, which is available in stores and online now, Mick discusses how he’s made a difference in people’s lives through technology by assembling teams to help others in need. Here's an excerpt!

In 2009, Mick and his team created the Eyewriter for Tempt, a graffiti artist struck down by ALS. Unable to express himself creatively, by building a pair of glasses that could track his eye movements, Tempt was able to make art again. 

In 2013's Project Daniel, Mick assembled a team to 3-D print a limb for a teenage boy in Sudan who lost both arms in a bomb blast. When Daniel used the 3-D-printed left arm to feed himself, it was the first time in two years he'd been able to effect the task.

“I believe that technology for the good of humanity can be attained and that people can learn to use anything if there is some inherent good imbedded in it,” Mick writes in the book. “I believe that anybody given the incentive to do good for the world will most likely strive for that.”

Find out more information about the “Not Impossible” book at the following online retailers:

Thanks to Bluetooth, You’ll Never Lose This Baby Pacifier

The 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas opens to the public today, and Blue Maestro’s Pacif-i is already making waves at the gigantic trade show.

Named as one of Time magazine’s “most ingenious gadgets from CES 2015,” Pacif-i is the “world’s first Bluetooth Smart baby pacifier,” according to Blue Maestro. Yes, it’s a pacifier packed with features, including a temperature sensor, a proximity sensor to monitor the pacifier’s location and an alarm that sounds off when the pacifier gets lost. Pacif-i synchs up with apps that are compatible with iOS and Android devices. Clearly, this isn’t the pacifier that was stuck in your mouth when you were tiny.

“I know firsthand the difficulty in taking a sick baby’s temperature,” co-founder Kirstin Hancock, Blue Maestro’s head of marketing, told Bluetooth Blog last year. “Pacif-i makes this easier, tracking the temperature and effect of the medication so parents can feel more at ease during this worrying time.”

Now, if someone only could come up with a gadget that could plan your baby’s college fund!

Top photo courtesy of Blue Maestro

This Stealthy-Looking Heart Monitor Looks Like a Bandage Fit for Batman

FitLinxx says AmpStrip is more accurate than heart monitors that you wear on your wrist and more comfortable than ones you strap on your chest.

We’re used to seeing heart rate monitors on wrists, but now a company called FitLinxx want you to stick their monitor right on your torso. Called the AmpStrip, this stealthy-looking device looks like a bandage that Batman would carry in his utility belt. 

Why place a heart monitor on your torso with a sticky adhesive instead of your wrist? For starters, FitLinxx says AmpStrip is more accurate. Another reason? Comfort. While other heart monitors that use chest straps increase accuracy, FitLinxx says their monitor won’t chafe your skin during a workout.

“AmpStrip is the first of its kind heart and activity tracking monitor outpacing existing products with significantly more accurate data and comfortable 24/7 wear before, during and after exercise,” Dave Monahan, the president and CEO of FitLinxx, said in a press release.

Photo courtesy of FitLinxx

Photo courtesy of FitLinxx

It won’t be long to until we get feedback about AmpStrip’s accuracy and comfort from users directly. FitLinxx expects to release AmpStrip during the second quarter of this year. And they’ll be plenty of fitness fanatics using it. More than 460 people have already funded FitLinxx’s Indiegogo campaign, which recently passed their $50,000 goal (the campaign ends on February 8.) 

FitLinxx can expect even more funders soon; they have been named a 2015 Best of Innovation Honoree at this week’s International Consumer Electronics Show.

Learn more about AmpStrip at their website, their Indiegogo page and in the video below:

Top photo courtesy of FitLinxx

The Bodybuilder Without a Heart

The Bodybuilder Without a Heart

Is he human or is he zombie?

"I'm pretty much the best-looking zombie you'll ever see," says Andrew Jones. He's not wrong. AJ is a fitness model and bodybuilder who's a little different from your typical Instagram workout hero in a big way: he has no heart.

Well, okay, he kind of has a heart. A few years ago, AJ found out he had a disease called cardiomyopathy that basically would've been a death sentence several years ago. But AJ is alive and kicking, because he has an LVAD -- a Left Ventricular Assist Device -- which is basically a battery-powered artificial computer heart. Pretty cool, right?

The thing is, though, it's not a permanent fix. AJ is still waiting to receive a human heart transplant, among the 120,000 other people who need one. Heart transplants aren't exactly easy to score these days, so the LVAD will help him manage his condition for now. In the mean time, AJ continues to make all of us people with hearts feel bad about the excuses we make to avoid going to the gym.

 

Microsoft’s Project Malmo: Artificial Intelligence Learns through Playing Minecraft

Microsoft’s Project Malmo: Artificial Intelligence Learns through Playing Minecraft

Artificial Intelligence (AI) researchers and developers are continuously seeking new ways to create, train, test, and refine AI technology and potential. While specific tasks such as understanding speech, searching for information, and recognizing images are becoming much more manageable for AI, what is often referred to in the field as general intelligence is more difficult to teach and program. General intelligence includes all of the complex, layered, interactive, and subtle things humans are able to process, evaluate, and do moment to moment with great flexibility and creativity. Researchers at Microsoft have come up with a novel way to help AI evolve and learn in this direction—through the use of AI in the video game, Minecraft.

Project Malmo, Minecraft, and Artificial Intelligence

Minecraft is a hugely popular “sandbox game;” a term used to describe the open empowerment and lack of rules applied to players. Minecraft players use cubes to build what they like; collaborate, communicate, and fight with others; and go on unlimited adventures in survival, creative, or adventure modes. Minecraft’s creator, Swedish game designer Markus Alexej Persson, AKA Notch (his in-game name), is also the co-founder of Mojang game developer. Notch has been a featured creator at The Museum of Modern ArtSoProGaming explains that The PC version of this game is well known for its variety of mods (modifications that alter how a game originally worked). These mods are carried out by third parties and offer new characters, items, and activities within the game. Because Minecraft offers so much creative freedom to players, it is a great place for an AI-controlled character to roam, learn, and evolve. 

Katja Hofmann, a researcher at the Machine Intelligence and Perception group at Microsoft Research Cambridge, is the Research Lead for this initiative, called Project Malmo (previously named Project AIX). She has a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Amsterdam and has focused much of her work on developing AI’s information search, retrieval, and recommendation abilities. Her long-term goal is “to develop AI systems that learn to collaborate with people, to empower their users, and help solve complex real-world problems.” Project Malmo is built as an experimentation platform on top of Minecraft with a mod for its Java version and code that helps the AI bot or agent to play. This two-part platform runs on Mac OS, Windows, and Linux and the AI players can be programmed in any language. Microsoft shares that Project Malmo integrates, “(deep) reinforcement learning, cognitive science, and many ideas from artificial intelligence.” Through reinforcement learning, AI agents are allowed to complete extensive trial and error explorations with a given task and will receive a reward for completing it successfully.

Project Malmo Goes Public

In the summer of 2016, Project Malmo became open source. Now, both beginning and expert programmers can try it on Git-Hub here. According to LiveScience, the new, publically launched version also offers the option to have chat interactions with the AI player. Computer scientists and others using Malmo can now create agents that can learn how to converse with people and each other. The new open source version also offers overclocking or speeding up of the game. This allows research experiments within the Project Malmo platform to be carried out a faster rate.

Collaboration and Education in Project Malmo

One of the most powerful attributes of Project Malmo for AI researchers is that it brings them together in a common, shared setting and open source environment. This is often preferable to working independently and trying to compare different, unconnected experiments, theories, algorithms, and results in realms such as symbolic AI, reinforcement learning, and other AI topics. Researchers can use Project Malmo to more easily work together, communicate, and brainstorm; because it reduces researcher isolation and increases experimentation speed, Project Malmo is a fertile platform for collaboration. 

Within the first few days after the project went public, it had over 20,000 views on GitHub. Another reason the public version of Project Malmo is popular is because of its applications in educational settings. Even novice coders can experience the AI system and the Microsoft Blog says that, “they’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that everyone from tweens with an early passion for programming to professors trying to train the next generation of AI researchers want to work with it as well.” Professor Jose Hernandez-Orallo of the Technical University of Valencia, Spain is using Project Malmo in his classes and he states that it will “have an impact in education, at least at the university level.” It’s easy to see that programming and experimenting in Minecraft might increase the amount of fun, novelty, and engagement for students of many ages and levels of experience. 

The hope is that as the AI agents or bots in Project Malmo take on challenges such as interacting and building with objects, they will also virtually explore, communicate, and learn in much the same way human-controlled agents do. As senior researcher Fernando Diaz puts it, “we’re trying to program it to learn, as opposed to programming it to accomplish specific tasks.”

Keep up with the Project Malmo researchers at the Microsoft Blog, where a recent entry offers insights from computer scientists on the subtlety and importance of collaborating to get their Minecraft agent to climb up a hill. If you try Project Malmo on GitHub, you can also check out this helpful Project Malmo community discussion forum here. Project Malmo Research Lead Katja Hofmann is on Twitter @katjahofmann

By Julia Travers

Converting Carbon Dioxide into Ethanol: “A Very Interesting Finding”

Converting Carbon Dioxide into Ethanol: “A Very Interesting Finding”

Because the Earth’s atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels are dangerously high (now more than 400 parts per million), a recently discovered process that converts CO2 into useable ethanol is a very big deal. The US alone currently uses billions of gallons of ethanol for fuel each year. It’s also exciting because it was a surprising discovery. The ethanol was produced with a nanotechnology-based catalyst that scientists at the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) expected would likely produce methanol. ORNL in Tennessee is the Department of Energy’s largest science and energy lab.

ORNL explains that the catalyst’s “novelty lies in its nanoscale structure, consisting of copper nanoparticles embedded in carbon spikes.” Adam Justin Rondinone, Ph.D., is the lead author of this study in Chemistry Select, titled “High-Selectivity Electrochemical Conversion of CO2 to Ethanol using a Copper Nanoparticle/N-Doped Graphene Electrode.” Senior Staff Scientist Rondinone is the leader of Helium-ion microscopy and chemical imaging research at the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences and the outreach coordinator for the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences. He offered us some helpful insights into the research.

“We had been studying the carbon nanospikes, without copper nanoparticles, for a few years before this discovery. Our center has studied carbon catalysts for years, because they are low-cost, don't require rare metals, and can be tuned. “

When low voltage is applied to this catalyst, it triggers a complex electrochemical reaction. Rondinone explained that while studying the first step of the proposed reaction, the scientists realized that the catalyst was “doing the entire reaction on its own.” The result is that a solution of CO2 dissolved in water turned into ethanol with a yield of 63 percent. Here’s Rondinone’s insight into the original expected outcome for the catalyst:

“Scientists have studied electrochemical conversion (technically it's called 'reduction') of carbon dioxide to other products for quite a while--since the 1980’s or even a bit before. Based on literature reports for nanocrystalline copper, we expected methane or methanol, which is a product that doesn't need a bond to be formed between two carbon atoms. That is, it's the simplest product. In order to get ethanol in high yield, we needed to have a carbon-carbon bond formed for most of the carbon dioxide to go through the reaction. That outcome was unexpected because it's much more difficult to do. We are still a bit unsure why C2 products are the highest yield. We believe we know the answer but haven't yet proven it.”

I asked Rondinone to share how he felt when he realized this process was reversing combustion and creating ethanol from CO2 with unexpected efficiency:

“Truthfully, it's initially a mixture of elation and skepticism. The first response is, 'do it again.' Once we realized it was repeatable, then we knew we had a very interesting finding on our hands.”

Because this catalyst uses less expensive materials and operates in room-temperature water, it is easy to turn on and off, economically viable, and could likely be scaled to industry proportions.

ORNL also shares that "...the process could be used to store excess electricity generated from variable power sources such as wind and solar...A process like this would allow you to consume extra electricity when it’s available to make and store as ethanol. This could help to balance a grid supplied by intermittent renewable sources.” Here’s more information from Rondinone on that possibility:

“We believe this to be true--that this catalyst (or one like it) could be used to convert wind power to a liquid fuel. Wind power is unreliable due to constantly changing weather conditions. Using large amounts of wind power to supply the grid is not currently possible. We are limited to around 20% wind, with the rest supplied by more reliable sources such as natural gas, nuclear, and coal. Finding a better use for wind power could allow us to use more of it, or to at least use what we have more efficiently. This catalyst will tolerate variability in ways that the grid cannot, so it could be run entirely on wind.”

Here are the team’s next steps:

“The next steps are to diversify our efforts. We will continue to investigate the basic science of the catalyst, but we also intend to quickly answer some of the scaling and economic questions that we have heard. There is no known physical reason why this catalyst cannot be scaled, but we must do it to ensure that is true. We must also measure lifetime and potential poisoning effects to begin to understand which types of CO2 sources might be appropriate. An economic model will help us to understand if the catalyst will be competitive with other ethanol sources, such as corn.”

This conversion of CO2 into fuel is an exciting breakthrough in the study of waste-to-fuel technology and reverse combustion. As Avery Thompson of Popular Mechanics puts it, this “process is cheap, efficient, and scalable, meaning it could soon be used to remove large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere.” It is also an important step in reducing our dependence on the limited fossil fuels in the ground.

The study’s co-authors are: Yang Song, Rui Peng, Dale Hensley, Peter Bonnesen, Liangbo Liang, Zili Wu, Harry Meyer III, Miaofang Chi, Cheng Ma, Bobby Sumpter, and Adam Rondinone.

You can follow Rondinone and Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s exciting work on Facebook and Twitter and watch a YouTube video on the study here

By Julia Travers