July 12th, 2013
07:47 PM ET

Creating a school for autistic adults, one student at a time

Editors Note: Dan Selec is the founder and CEO of the nonPareil Institute, a hybrid software company and school located in Plano, Texas that teaches adults on the autism spectrum to write and develop apps, video games and iBooks. Watch his full profile this Saturday at 2:30p ET on “The Next List.”

By Dan Selec, Special to CNN

"You’re doing what?" asked my wife, ”Starting a new company," I said. “Not in my den you’re not,” she replied as she took in the PCs, monitors and chairs that now filled the room. “But you can have the kitchen.”

And so it began. I started the nonPareil Institute to provide technical training to adults on the autism spectrum. The idea was to mentor them to work in teams, and teach them to produce products that we could take to market. The ultimate goal is to build living campuses where my son, and others like him who are on the autism spectrum, can live fulfilling lives doing what they love.

The core issue I noticed was that there were many programs for spectrum kids, but there weren’t a lot of choices for adults after high school. That when they should begin the most productive times of their lives, but instead the group is plagued by very low employment rates, depression and isolation. After looking at the statistics, I knew it was time to get off the bench and make some new life choices.

We formed the foundations of how to accomplish the organization's goals during those early months in our home. The next year and a half was a blur of holding down a very busy full-time job, and training two students each night for two hours, five nights a week. It was the most exhausting period of my life. My eternal thanks goes to a spouse who tolerated so much activity in and out of our home for so long. As she now says, “It was just our new norm.”

Once the nonPareil Institute moved to a new full-time facility, we talked about how much we would miss the day-to-day routine in our home. It’s funny, I think everyone really missed the kitchen and the nightly bustle of our regular home life. We were one big happy family.

This is a core element I wanted to bring to the campus, where we now have 125 people, called crew members  learning and working. Forget technology. It is important to put the human element first, especially with a group of young people who are struggling to find their way in life, much less while also dealing with autism spectrum issues.

I spent much time mentoring, consoling and sometimes even praying with this early group, as they did their best to cope with the world they faced each day. The first nine crew members proved it was a good idea because they were learning and their lives were better as a result of the time we spent together.

Any parent who has a child with a disability walks around with the same question in their mind: "What happens to my child when I'm gone?"

At nonPareil Institute, we focus on three areas that will answer that question: Train, work and live. We provide technology training to adults on the autism spectrum. We mentor them into becoming functioning members of our working product teams. They build products and release them to the market (we have six apps in the App Store now). With parental, donor and product support, our crew members can live on campuses that are built to meet their needs for a lifetime.

Seeing how most of our crew does not drive, the campus environment solves the transportation issues we struggle with today. Building a community around my child that knows who he is, and lets him work on projects he loves, will allow my child to live a safe, productive and fulfilling life.

It turns out, there are quite a few other families who feel the same way. Simply responding to the massive influx of “requests for information” is an overwhelming and full-time job for several people.

At nonPareil, there is not a lot of theory. What is practical, what moves us forward, and what works are all that counts. We are, at our very core, a working software company. Yes, we do provide training in tools and technology, but the bigger part is helping individuals become functioning members of professional software teams.

For our donors, this is the most compelling kind of gift to give; a gift that, over time, allows an individual on the autism spectrum to no longer need outside support. We provide community and satisfaction for our crew, now at 125 strong. They are seeing real results for their efforts, which will allow them to contribute to their own success.

Ultimately, nonPareil is more a mission of love than technology, and it has to be a solution for the lifetime of our children. This is the one central objective that all of us as parents remain focused on: providing a lifetime answer for our kids.

Next time you bust out your mobile phone, head to the store and search for “npi” to buy an app from nonPareil Institute. Our crew will thank you.


Filed under: Education • entrepreneurs • Innovation • Social change • The Next List • Thinkers • TV • Video
July 2nd, 2013
03:33 PM ET

Combating disease with dance: a new approach to Parkinson’s

By Rebecca Bluitt, Special to CNN

Warm-ups, waltzes, partnering. These are all routines typical in dance settings like The Juilliard School in Manhattan. Many of the students here will perform them on stages all around the world, contorting their limbs and using their bodies to create seemingly impossible works of art, pushing the limits of human potential.

But on Monday afternoons, Juilliard hosts a different breed of dancers. Their bodies are slower and less limber; their movements lack fluidity. Yet the dancers execute each little gesture with determination and purpose, and their faces shine with a fresh enthusiasm that has often waned in seasoned professionals.

These dancers have Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative neurological disorder that is difficult to conceal, with symptoms often manifesting in the most cruelly conspicuous of ways. Twitches may start in the hand and can gradually progress into uncontrollable spasms. As the body becomes less mobile and speech is impaired, those living with Parkinson’s are often also crippled with feelings of isolation.

One remedy? For the Brooklyn Parkinson Group and the internationally acclaimed Mark Morris Dance Group, dance was the missing ingredient. These two seemingly improbable allies teamed up in 2001 to create Dance for PD, a non-profit that provides free dance classes to people with Parkinson’s. The Dance for PD class format parallels ordinary dance classes, with participants moving from seated exercises to combinations performed holding chairs for support and sequences that travel across the room.

There are multiple practical benefits to the class; participants report improvement in things like muscle control and posture. But co-founding teacher and Dance for PD program manager David Leventhal emphasizes the class’s artistry and sense of community - elements frequently lacking in conventional types of therapy.

"Dance gives people a way to think about movement in a way that is less mechanical and more about using the imagination in the service of movement," Leventhal says. "Sometimes in therapy you’re working on a very specific task - raising your arm, or tapping your foot at a certain rate. In dance class we often will raise our arms or move our feet at a certain rate, but those are done within a bigger context."

"I call this 'Mr. Parky,' my inner hand puppet," laughs Andrew Thomas, a Dance for PD participant, referencing the tremor in his right hand. As a composer, orchestra conductor, pianist and 43-year veteran music instructor at Juilliard, Thomas has had an extensive performing arts career. He is well versed in the art of nimble movements and quick hand gestures. But when doctors diagnosed Thomas with Parkinson’s in 2010, the value of this experience became even more tangible.

"With music-making - and I would include dance with music-making also - somehow it involves the entire brain," says Thomas. "And because of that neuron connections get made that make activities possible. If I just sit and I’m lethargic, then I’m guaranteed to deteriorate."

This positive correlation between dance and brain regeneration is also attracting the attention of neuroscientists. In September, a research project developed by Canada’s National Ballet School and scientists at Ontario’s McMaster and Western University will use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study the effects of the dance learning process on people with Parkinson’s. Students of Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons have also visited Dance for PD classes to investigate new methods of treatment that do not involve medication.

While researches are just beginning to explore the mechanics behind the program, Dance for PD continues to receive a warm reception from members of the Parkinson’s community. From its origins in New York, Dance for PD has expanded to over 100 domestic and international sister programs, including a recently launched initiative in Australia. These budding enterprises are no stranger to adaptation, infusing local flair into the original class format. While New Yorkers move to familiar show tunes from "West Side Story," participants in Dance for PD’s location in India learn dance numbers from beloved Bollywood films.

Despite minor cultural differences, a sense of joy seems to resonate from all corners of the program.

"The first time I came to the class," Thomas says, "near the end of the class I burst into tears, because I was looking around and there were people who could not stand. They could do things with their head a little bit, but that was all. And it wasn’t tears of pity or grief. I was just terribly moved at their courage in showing up, that they were still here and demonstrating it with their presence and their bodies."

And as far as Leventhal is concerned, Dance for PD is just getting started in its mission to empower people with Parkinson’s "as dancers, as students, as lifelong learners and as artists."

"The innovation," Leventhal says, "was both that initial spark and the ongoing conversation, exploration, creation of what this program is and what it can be."

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Filed under: Innovation • Social change • The Next List • Thinkers • Video • World
May 31st, 2013
11:28 AM ET

Five things I learned in the ICU that helped me start a business

Editor's Note: Tune in to CNN Saturday, June 1, at 2:30 pm ET to see "The Next List's" 15-minute profile of innovator Francesco Clark.

By Francesco Clark, Special to CNN

1. Show up.

They say “A picture’s worth a thousand words.” When I was laying in a hospital bed hooked up to a ventilator and dozens of tubes, the most impactful moment was when I saw so many of my friends and family there, sitting just a few feet away. I couldn’t speak. My left vocal cord was paralyzed. My left lung had collapsed. I had inhaled too much water and shattered two vertebrae in a diving accident that became the pivotal instant that changed my life.

What did I have to rely on for those first terrifying hours after? When I felt alone, when the doctors told me I probably wouldn’t survive the night, I still felt at my core that somehow I’d survive. But how can you know for sure when everyone around you doesn’t?

Those are the moments when a well-intentioned note doesn’t matter, but being there does. What got me through was that I felt at ease and immediately comforted knowing my parents, brother, sister and so many friends were there supporting me. It was a testament to how meaningful the unspoken word can be.

The emails were touching but I don’t remember them. What I remember is everyone who was there in person.

2. Live with passion.

In the helicopter on the way to SUNY Stony Brook’s emergency room I finally closed my eyes. The door was open and I could feel the warm wind wafting onto my face but the thought of seeing the ground disappear below me was too much to bear. I was strapped into a gurney, my spine filling with an increasing amount of pressure that felt like it would explode.

For the first time, I didn’t have to reassure anyone I was alive or direct someone to call 911. Those ten minutes of introspection made me realize, “I might not make it through tonight.” None of it made sense. The weather was too serene for something so catastrophic to happen. It was a beautiful summer night with the moon and stars floating in a sky I wasn’t sure I’d see again.

I wanted to live, desperately. My first instinct, in a surge of energy, was to fight to fix what just happened. As it turned out, every part of being in the ICU was a challenge. Relearning how to breathe became the first and most important task of living. With my lungs unable to clear themselves by coughing, my blood oxygen levels were too low to sustain my body. I had to make it better or I’d need to be on a ventilator.

The nurses gave me a clear cup with a tube attached to it. The goal was to blow into the tube and make a little red ball float intermittently for thirty minutes. It was the most boring thing I was supposed to do but it was the most important. I needed to figure out a way to get strong enough to breathe. I found a way that was just as effective but all my own.

My sister and a childhood friend, Alex, stopped by my room the next day. They unpacked a disc player and placed it on the table facing my bed. Alex had an ABBA CD with him that he put in the player and said “sing.” For nine days, I didn’t care if I made a fool of myself: I sang so horribly and my lung capacity rose to a normal range. I could breathe on my own, without a machine, and it felt like a triumph.

3. Make a connection

There was a night nurse, Cynthia, whom I began having long conversations with. I’d wake up gasping for air from a recurring nightmare I couldn’t escape. It would play over and over in my head and I’d panic. Imagine dreaming that you suddenly can’t feel your legs or arms, only to wake up and realize that this horrible nightmare is actually reality.

But through conversations with Cynthia I began to feel human again because we’d talk about anything but my injury. That connection to another human being, the feeling of mutual respect, gave me the peace of mind I needed in order to go back to sleep and hold on to hope.

4. Commit to what’s important.

Like most twenty-four year olds, when I was confronted with a big change, there was a two-part reaction. The first was, “how do I deal with this?” and the second was, “what are my other options?” My injury forced me deal with the former on a level I never thought I could.

Many times I’d question whether my nerves would grow. The scientific community didn’t think they would. But it didn’t and doesn’t make sense to me why I can’t get better. I don’t have a disease, and new research is breaking the old boundaries.

I committed to my recovery. By focusing on that goal it became easier to email the leading spinal cord injury researchers and doctors around the world. I moved past the fear of asking a dumb question and learned to be direct and honest. It was easier than I expected and opened a world of possibilities where once there was none.

When I started Clark’s Botanicals, I had no idea what it would mean to run a skincare company. I was only sure of the formulation my father and I had made, and believed in our organic collaboration. The rest of it felt like a world of unknown. At first I thought I had to understand every part of it immediately. Eventually I realized that if I just stayed committed, I’d learn and grow as we expanded. And, like my nerves, why wouldn’t it grow if I were truly committed to it?

5. Realize there is no box.

Everyone has a different story. My good friend, Brooke Ellison, sustained a high-level cervical spinal cord injury when she was a young girl. It disconnected her body from her thoughts and made her dependent on a ventilator.

I often wonder if her brain ever just chills out. I suppose it might not have time to. She emails me while grading her students’ term papers, the ones who are hoping for a passing grade from their college professor. Those pupils probably don’t know she’s one of the first quadriplegics to graduate from Harvard and then become a leading Ph.D. in bioethics.

She’s not the kind of person to mention that because her focus is on something so much more beyond herself—engaging others and explaining the most complex topics in her brilliantly simplified way.

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Filed under: Culture • Social change • The Next List • Thinkers
May 17th, 2013
01:41 PM ET

Stanford's unique approach to teaching problem solving

Editor's Note: Jim Patell's full 30-minute profile will air on CNN's "The Next List" Saturday, May 18th, at 2:30 P.M. ET.

By James M. Patell, Special to CNN

Last week, at the invitation of my niece Alexis, I video chatted with a sixth grade class in the South Jefferson Middle School about a unique course I teach. Design for Extreme Affordability is a graduate-level course at Stanford in which interdisciplinary teams design new products and services, together with the associated implementation plans, for the world’s poor.

The class, offered jointly by the Graduate School of Business and the Mechanical Engineering Department, is now finishing its tenth year; by this June, we will have completed 90 projects with 27 partners in 18 countries. Cumulatively, these projects were conducted by 365 students from 27 programs across Stanford, including all seven schools: Business, Earth Sciences, Education, Engineering, Humanities and Sciences, Law, and Medicine.

One thing the middle schoolers wanted to know was why we had chosen to mix students from various fields to work on the projects instead of limiting it to just engineers.

They aren't the first to wonder. Conducting a truly interdisciplinary course is challenging for the instructors and for the students. The various schools have different grading systems, different registration systems and so on. Even the simple logistics of finding a class time-slot is difficult, because each department has its own norms that dictate which times of which days are reserved for required courses and other mandatory tasks. Why bother?

Having fresh eyes and child-like curiosity is important. Seeing the world through different lenses also is important. Our engineering students recognize systems of forces and flows, while our business students see intersecting webs of potential consumers and producers. Medical students envision vectors of transmission for disease or treatment, while our international policy students identify competing interest groups. The different frameworks that they use to model causal relationships, and the different “mental filing systems" and vocabularies they use to store and express their impressions, allow us to gain “3-D empathy” for our users, before we conduct the first brainstorm or build the first prototype.

One of the founding tenets of the d.school (the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford) is human-centered design. Rather than beginning with shiny new technology, we start by trying to establish deep, personal empathy with our users to determine their needs and wants. We must fill in two blanks: Our users need a better way to ___ BECAUSE ___. The because portion is a big deal.

We are working across cultures, across geographies, across political systems and across myriad differences in the contexts of daily life. The hardest lesson for designers to remember is that we are not designing for ourselves. We must listen carefully and we must watch carefully. We must ask polite but probing questions about those elements of our users’ lives that strike us as "curious.”

We cannot assume we understand their preferences. We cannot assume that they can articulate those preferences in terms we will understand. We cannot assume that our users will emphasize elements that are so deeply ingrained in their daily existence that, from their perspective, "go without saying." And we cannot assume that they are aware of the full menu of possibilities from which they could be choosing new ways of doing and living.

Getting interdisciplinary teams to work well is not easy. We try to model the behavior we need in the teaching team, which consists of a business school professor, a mechanical engineering professor, a business entrepreneur, a practicing clinical psychologist and a recent graduate of the medical school.

I am the Business School representative. My colleague Professor David Beach is a revered teacher in mechanical engineering and the patriarch of the Product Realization Laboratory - the "machine shop" in which our teams' physical prototypes become real. Mr. Stuart Coulson is a high-tech serial entrepreneur who founded and sold two companies before volunteering to join the teaching team five years ago.

Dr. Julian Gorodsky has been a psychological counselor to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and companies for several decades, and previously served as a field assessment psychologist for Peace Corps trainee groups. Dr. David Janka took the course as a fourth-year medical student two years ago, and then joined the teaching team as a design fellow, the sixth Design for Extreme Affordability alum to do so. Ms. Joan Dorsey and now Ms. Rita Lonhart have been the coordinators who keep the course on an even keel.

As with the students, even finding a time we all can meet is a challenge, but we have come to appreciate the different perspective that each member brings in selecting course partners, deciding which students to admit, determining where we need to up our game as teachers, and especially in counseling teams who are struggling.

We have a straightforward mission statement: every student deserves a great educational experience, and every course partner deserves a great new product or service. We are convinced that interdisciplinary teams, of both students and instructors, give us a better shot at achieving those goals.


Filed under: Design • Education • entrepreneurs • Social change • The Next List
May 14th, 2013
10:42 AM ET

Addressing tough poverty problems with innovation and design

Editor's Note: Jim Patell's full 30-minute profile will air on CNN's "The Next List" Saturday, May 18th, at 2:30 P.M. ET.

Few people in our lives are as influential or important as teachers. The truly great ones not only educate their students, they infuse them with excitement and inspire them to make an impact on the world.

Jim Patell is one of those teachers. For the past 10 years, he has given his students a unique opportunity to learn real-world skills and use them to improve the lives of the desperately poor.

Patell is a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. He is also the founder and driving force behind a groundbreaking graduate course called Design for Extreme Affordability. The course, offered at Stanford’s d.school (the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design), is part education, part adventure and part entrepreneurship.

Over two semesters, Patell and his team challenge the students to design low-cost products that can solve tough problems in the developing world. Forty students from across Stanford’s schools - engineering, medical, business and others - pair up with global partners who have concrete projects to tackle. The goal is to deliver nuts and bolts solutions, a way to implement them, and the means to sustain them over the long haul.

“We’re asking students, are you willing to take a leap of faith?” says Patell, “Are you willing to commit yourself to something for which the solution is not immediately apparent and to take a shot, to give it the best you’ve got.”

So far, the "Extreme" students, as they are known, have taken on 90 projects with 26 partners in 18 countries, and the results have been spectacular.

Here are some of their innovations:

Embrace blanket – It’s a kind of sleeping bag for premature infants equipped with technology that helps them maintain normal body temperature for up to eight hours. The company has been in India for four years with pilot projects in nine other countries. They say they’ve saved 5,000 babies so far.

d.light solar lanterns – These lanterns replace kerosene and candle light in villages with no electricity. D.light’s president says the product has “enabled 10 million people worldwide to upgrade from kerosene lamps to solar lighting.”

AdaptAir – A new device to help treat childhood pneumonia. A team of Jim’s students invented an adaptor for a nasal cannula (a plastic tube for delivering oxygen) that provides a custom fit for babies and children of all sizes. Getting the right fit is critical to treating pneumonia effectively.

Over the years, Jim Patell and his team have developed a kind of formula for success - a way for his students to become what he calls creatively “accident prone.”

“It’s not, if I just squint and concentrate, that idea will come to me,” says Patell. “It’s, I don’t have that idea now. I don’t have that insight now, but I can go through a set of activities that I can execute, when I want, to enhance the probability that the great idea is going to occur.”

By gaining deep empathy with their customers, brainstorming with partners and team members, and producing many prototypes quickly, students learn what works and what doesn’t.

Ultimately, Patell says, “what the course produces is young men and women who we aspire to be able to drop down into any messy situation, have them land on their feet and make progress.”

Jim Patell and his team and his students put their hearts, souls and backs into designing "just right" solutions to enduring problems for those at the bottom of the economic pyramid. He is not only helping to transform the lives of the sick and poor but giving a many of his students the experience of a lifetime.


Filed under: Education • Innovation • Social change • The Next List • Thinkers • Video
May 10th, 2013
12:28 PM ET

Green power for all

By Yosef Abramowitz, Special to CNN

The world, especially the developing world, has an acute need for food, water and energy. Israel happens to have terrific innovators in agriculture and in water technology, which, if exported, could provide food and water security to the over billion people who are vulnerable.

I’m a solar energy guy. Actually, I’m a trouble-maker, former anti-apartheid and human rights activist who stumbled into the solar world the second my family and I arrived to a remote desert kibbutz to begin a two-year escape-from-suburbia sabbatical.

Sometimes you get lucky, which is what I consider myself for having met at Kibbutz Ketura Ed Hofland and from New Jersey, David Rosenblatt. Together we formed the Arava Power Company and fought the good fight and eventually won the battle to bring commercial-scale solar power to the Jewish state. We also pioneered in Israel, thankfully with success, the concept of Impact Investing—doing good while doing well.

There are 1.6 billion people on the planet who do not have any electric power, despite the fact that the sun shines on them all. We learned some valuable lessons along the way in Israel that, with some luck and hard work, could be brought to Africa and elsewhere.

The UN Secretary General has launched a new initiative called “Sustainable Energy for All,” to provide green power to everyone by 2030. While we support this idea, I believe that we can supply green power to everyone by 2020. The 2030 goal is ambitious with a
world-view focused on raising non-profit, non-governmental funds, which are limited. I think the 2020 goal is ambitious and do-able, since we have developed a way to mobilize nearly unlimited for-profit funds to accomplish a similar goal but faster.

While solar energy is also a business I see it as a human rights campaign. The UN Declaration of Human Rights guarantees lots of things that poor people don’t have: education, health care, and jobs. None of this is really possible in a world without electricity. In the best of scenarios, however, when a poor country begins to provide power to its people, they are hooking up polluting and dirty diesel generators. So some of the poorest people are the planet, as they try to work their way out of poverty, end up becoming part of the climate change problem rather than part of the solution.

I want us all to be part of the solution to climate change and global warming, while also accelerating developing of poor countries. So we started a second company, Energiya Global Capital, to do just that.

While we can’t do it alone, we do want to supply green power to 50 million people by 2020, which is about 10,000 megawatts—about the size of Israel’s energy market. And to give investors the opportunity to invest according to their values while creating value in the developing world.

Time is against us.

For the planet to be in balance, we need carbon dioxide levels to be at 350 parts per million. Today, we are at 392 parts, and accelerating quickly. According to some estimates, by 2017 the planet must level off any growth in greenhouse gas emissions in order for radical climate change to not be irreversible.

Since 9 percent of the planet’s electricity is produced from burning diesel oil, we can do something historic by zeroing it out. Not only taking out the carbon footprint of that energy, but also cutting the cost of power in those markets. The price of solar panels has dropped so drastically in the nearly seven years that we have been working to bring solar power to Israel that our costs are sometimes about half the cost of diesel. And solar power has none of the volatility, pollution or money going to autocratic regimes that produce most of the world’s oil.

I think what we have learned in our struggle to bring solar power to Israel can now be applied worldwide. And not to do so would be selfish. Just like with agriculture and water, Israel, through our efforts, has something to contribute in the realm of green power for the people. When President Obama was in Jerusalem last month, he singled out Israeli innovation in the field of solar energy, with its potential to help the world.

This is our journey. We have succeeded in Israel to begin our solar revolution. We cannot afford to fail to spark a solar revolution in Africa and elsewhere.

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Filed under: Environment • Science • Social change • Tech • The Next List • Video
April 15th, 2013
04:14 PM ET

Bringing solar power to Israel, and the world

Editor's NoteYosef Abramowitz is a solar-power pioneer, an entrepreneur, an activist, an environmentalist and co-founder of the Arava Power Company. Abramowitz, a three -time Nobel Peace Prize nominee, has been instrumental in helping Israel become one of the world’s major players in alternative energy.  A 30-minute profile of Abramowitz will air on CNN's "The Next List" coming soon!

As we approach Earth Day we will hear a lot about the threat of global warming and how solar power could be part of a solution to save the environment.

Israeli innovator Yosef Abramowitz is so convinced renewable energy is the answer he’s made it his mission to install solar fields all over the world. The activist, dubbed “Captain Sunshine” because of his superhuman efforts to save the planet, pioneered the concept of “impact investing” to make his solar dream work.

“I went in completely naïve about how hard it was going to be. We have to do something very proactive, very immediate,” says Abramowitz. “The need to replace burning fossil fuels is a clear and imminent danger to survival of our species. We’ve innovated an idea by bringing together technology, finance and regulation to save the world through solar power.”

His idea stemmed from what he calls a serendipitous trip to the desert. In 2006, looking for a more laid-back lifestyle, Yosef and his wife, Rabbi Susan Silverman (sister of the comedian Sarah Silverman), moved with their five kids — including two adopted from Ethiopia — to Kibbutz Ketura in southern Israel. Abramowitz was raised in Boston but had fond memories of volunteering at the kibbutz after high school.

Yosef says their plan for a quiet family sabbatical changed as soon as they arrived.

“The sun, even though it was setting, was just burning our skin. I thought, ‘I’m sure the whole place works on solar power.' ”

But it didn’t, because solar power was non-existent in Israel. Abramowitz began taking classes in renewable energy and talking to people at the kibbutz about forming a company. He found partners with businessmen Ed Hofland, who lived on the kibbutz, and David Rosenblatt, based in New Jersey, and together they started Arava Power, the first company to sign a deal with the Israeli government for production of solar power.
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Filed under: Environment • Science • Social change • The Next List • Video
March 19th, 2013
09:07 AM ET

Leslie Saxon: Better tech for better health

Editor's note: Dr. Leslie Saxon is chief cardiologist at USC's Keck School of Medicine and founder of the Center for Body Computing, an innovation think tank dedicated to wireless health. For more on Saxon, watch "The Next List," Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET on CNN. 

What if tracking your heart rate and blood pressure was as simple as getting your e-mail?

That’s the future Dr. Leslie Saxon imagines at the University of Southern California. She is chief of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at USC’s Keck School of Medicine and founded the university’s Center for Body Computing (known as the CBC). Saxon is determined to create digital tools that will allow doctors and patients to monitor and share health data.

“It's almost obscene to think about how information is everywhere now and shared over the most trivial things, yet patients can't get even the data from an implanted device they have in their body. They're locked out,” says Saxon. “After 20 years, I finally understand that just telling the patient what to do in a paternalistic way doesn't result in good outcomes. Patients have to partner with you.”

At the CBC, Saxon spearheaded a unique collaborative system with the university's schools of engineering, business and film, along with USC's athletics department, to research and develop wireless devices and health solutions.

"The essence of digital health is interdisciplinary connectivity," says Carmen Puliafito, dean of USC's Keck School of Medicine. " And Leslie has been a true pioneer at that."

“Within digital there’s a lot of ability to integrate different skill sets,” says Saxon, 53. “My brother’s a film producer. My husband’s a sportswriter. So I was always looking for a way to integrate what I did with the things I’m also passionate about.”

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Filed under: Future • Innovation • Smartphones • Social change • Tech • The Next List
March 8th, 2013
10:57 AM ET

Making mind-controlled exoskeletons a reality

Miguel Nicolelis is a professor of neurobiology at Duke University. For more on Nicolelis and his work, watch "The Next List" this Sunday at 2:30 pm ET on CNN.

Dr. Miguel Nicolelis: “In our lifetime, we will see a paralyzed person walking the streets of New York or Sao Paulo.”

Who he is: Nicolelis is a neuroscientist and pioneer in the brain-machine interface, a technology that allows people and animals to interact with computers and other artificial devices using nothing but their thoughts. It may sound like a scene out of "2001: A Space Odyssey," but it’s happening today in the Nicolelis Lab at Duke University’s Center for Neuroengineering. That’s where primates spend hours each day playing video games just by thinking about them.

Why he matters: By decoding the electrical signals of the brain, then sending them to artificial devices, Nicolelis has blazed a trail in an emerging field called neuro prosthetics.   His goal: to help paralyzed people walk again. In just 18 months, he plans to “shock the world” by unveiling his mind-controlled exoskeleton - a sort of “wearable robot” - at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.  There, with hundreds of millions of soccer fans looking on, a paralyzed teenager will don the exoskeleton to literally kick off the opening ceremony and, Nicolelis hopes, teach the world that science knows no bounds.

Nicolelis is not the only neuroscientist to experiment with mind-controlled prosthetics. But he insists his brain-machine interface can engage far more brain cells,  or neurons, than others have even attempted. The result is a more finely tuned prosthetic, one that sends motor commands while simultaneously receiving sensory information: touch, for example, and temperature. These are the signals that help us make sense of our world.

For that teenager at the World Cup, it means she’ll not only walk across the soccer pitch, she’ll feel every step she takes. FULL POST

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Filed under: Education • Innovation • Science • Social change • Tech • The Next List
November 17th, 2012
03:23 PM ET

Scientist aims to connect the public with nature's 'last biotic frontier'

Editor’s Note: Nalini Nadkarni is a professor, a pioneer in tree canopy research and co-founder of the Sustainability in Prisons Project. Watch a 30-minute profile of her on CNN's "The Next List," Sunday at 2 p.m. ET.

By Nalini Nadkarni, Special to CNN

“Trees are the earth’s endless efforts to speak to the listening sky.”
- Rabindranath Tagore, Indian poet

Hanging by a rope no thicker than my pinkie finger in a giant spruce tree 150 feet above the ground, I survey the view of the temperate rainforest of the Olympic Peninsula below me. Although perching in this treetop may seem more like a dream for a combination rock-climber and wilderness adventurer, the forest canopy has been my arena for a lifetime of scientific research.

The forest canopy – the part of the forest high above the forest floor – has been an area of burgeoning scientific interest for the last three decades. I was among the first forest canopy pioneers who thought that climbing vertically to explore the treetops would yield scientific paydirt. The thrill of the climb drew us to develop methods of canopy access - modified mountain-climbing techniques, construction cranes, hot-air balloons.

Those early experiences were exploratory forays into an unknown scientific world, termed “the last biotic frontier." We observed new interactions. Arboreal mice pollinate flowers in the nocturnal canopy. Roots grow from the branches of trees to draw nutrients from canopy-held soils. Canopy-dwelling mosses sieve nutrients from rain that passes through canopies. Once, when I spent the night in a Costa Rican forest canopy, a nocturnal anteater walked right by my suspended cot, searching out columns of arboreal leaf-cutting ants. The ants carried leaf bits they had harvested to their subterranean nests, connecting treetops to root tips. FULL POST

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Filed under: Environment • Science • Social change • The Next List
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