Lasers turn cement into liquid metal
May 28th, 2013
04:52 PM ET

Lasers turn cement into liquid metal

By Doug Gross, CNN

Not all scientists compare themselves favorably to the lead-to-gold alchemists of King Arthur's day.

Then again, not all scientists say they've figured out a way to zap cement with a laser and turn it into metal.

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory announced this week that they have unraveled a formula to do just that. The discovery, they say, opens up cheap, common cement as a material that could be used in the electronics world to make things like computer chips or thin films and other protective coatings.

“This new material has lots of applications, including as thin-film resistors used in liquid-crystal displays - basically the flat panel computer monitor that you are probably reading this from at the moment,” said Chris Benmore, a physicist from Argonne who worked with a team of scientists from Japan, Finland and Germany on the project.

The metallic glass material that results from the process has both better resistance to corrosion than regular metal and is less breakable than regular glass, the researchers say.

This change demonstrates a unique way to make metallic-glass material, which has positive attributes including better resistance to corrosion than traditional metal, less brittleness than traditional glass, conductivity, low energy loss in magnetic fields, and fluidity for ease of processing and molding. Previously, only metals have been able to transition to a metallic-glass form.

In the process, researchers melted mayenite - a component of cement made of calcium and aluminum oxides - at temperatures of 2,000 degrees Celsius using a carbon dioxide laser beam. By keeping the piping hot material in an aerodynamic levitator, they were able to keep it from touching the sides of its container until it cooled into a glassy state.

Until now, only metals were able to be melted into a metallic-glass form. They say their discovery could lead to finding other materials that can be turned into semi-conductors.


Filed under: Innovation • Science • Tech
May 28th, 2013
04:29 PM ET

How Francesco Clark made beauty from tragedy

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 Francesco Clark.

Madonna and Michelle Obama are self-proclaimed fans. Jane Larkworthy at W Magazine calls it simply “divine.” And Harper’s Bazaar’s Alexandra Parnass says it’s the most innovative skin-care line she’s ever seen.

It's Clark’s Botanicals, which has quickly developed a cult following, particularly among the fashion elite, since its launch in 2005. The secret, according to founder Francesco Clark, is Jasmine Absolute, a blend of essential oils found in all his products. But for some, Clark's unique entry into the world of beauty is at least part of the draw.

This Saturday, June 1, marks the 11th anniversary of the accident that would forever change Clark’s life. He was just 24, enjoying the first night of a summer rental on Long Island, when he decided to take a late-night dip.

“The second I dove in,” he says, “I realized I dove into the shallow end of the pool.”

Francesco was paralyzed from the shoulders down. “You’ll never move your arms,” doctors told him. “Don’t even think about your legs. Don’t even bother.”

Clark never accepted his diagnosis. Not truly. But it wasn’t until his hero, actor-turned-disabled activist Christopher Reeve, passed away that he decided to take full responsibility for his recovery. And for the first time since his accident, Clark looked in a mirror. “I didn’t look like myself.”

One of the side effects of his spinal-cord injury was he could no longer sweat. “I had acne everywhere, but it was unreactive to any $500 cream, $3 cream, prescriptions, over-the-counter," he said. "Nothing worked.”

Eager to reclaim the friends and colleagues he’d neglected since his injury, he turned to his father, a doctor trained in both homeopathy and Western medicine.

After setting up a lab in the kitchen, Clark and his father investigated 78 botanical ingredients before landing on Jasmine Absolute, the unique blend of essential oils that solved Francesco’s skin problems. Today it’s used throughout the Clark’s Botanicals skincare line, sold in stores from New York to Hong Kong.

But far more important than the line’s success is the role it’s played in Clark’s recovery.

"It was the first time I saw the power of the beauty industry," he said. "A lot of people think it's just about the way you look. For me, it's about the way I felt."

Bolstered by the renewed sense of purpose his company has given him - and his aggressive pursuit of spinal-cord injury treatments - Clark has defied his doctors’ diagnosis. He now has partial use of his arms, wrists and hands. And as his company continues to grow, so do his dreams.

“You know, I’m very impatient and I want to do more," he said. "I want to be more independent, using my hands. And I plan to walk again in the next three to five years.”

Post by:
Filed under: Culture • Fashion • Innovation • Science • The Next List • Video
Drones: The future of disaster response
Fireflight's Scout is a light, portable unmanned aerial vehicle that its maker says is easy to launch and recover.
May 23rd, 2013
01:29 PM ET

Drones: The future of disaster response

By Heather Kelly, CNN

First responders to Monday's massive tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, were greeted with a blighted expanse of destroyed homes, blocked roads, downed power lines and a limited window of time to unearth survivors before the sun set.

Navigating the area on foot or by car was a challenge because of the debris. News and law-enforcement helicopters filled the air above, but while they gathered useful information for rescue crews, the noise they created was drowning out cries for help from trapped survivors.

The entire area was declared a no-fly zone.

But one airborne technology will soon make responding to these kinds disasters easier: unmanned automated vehicles (UAVs), more commonly called drones. These portable, affordable aircraft can launch quickly in dangerous situations, locate survivors and send data about their whereabouts to responders on the ground. FULL POST

Post by:
Filed under: Innovation • Science • Tech
May 23rd, 2013
11:31 AM ET

Asteroid Hunter seeks out asteroids hurtling towards Earth

By Ed Lu, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Ed Lu is a former NASA astronaut and current founder and CEO of the B612 Foundation. His mission is to build the world’s most powerful asteroid tracking system to find asteroids on a collision course with earth. Watch his full story this Saturday at 2:30p ET on CNN’s “The Next List.”

Next week on May 31, 2013, a 1.7 mile wide asteroid, 1998 QE2, will fly past the Earth at a distance of 3.6 million miles.

If this asteroid were to hit the Earth (don't worry, it won't this time), it would be the end of human civilization.  Think about that.  Not only would it kill billions of people, but it would take with it our very history. Gone would be our cities, our culture, our languages, our art, our music, our scientific knowledge - everything that we as a species have built up during the past 10,000 years. Gone in an instant.

Asteroid impacts are the only global scale natural disaster we know how to prevent. We have the technology to deflect asteroids, but we cannot deflect an asteroid that we haven't found yet. This is why the B612 Foundation is building the Sentinel Space Telescope, the world's most powerful asteroid detection and tracking system, to see the millions of asteroids we can't see today and could pose threats to our planet.  The B612 Foundation is a nonprofit organization, dependent on private donations for our mission. We welcome you to join our efforts at the B612 Foundation and help protect not only our planet, but our future.


Filed under: Future • Innovation • Science • Space • The Next List • Uncategorized
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.

Post by:
Filed under: Environment • Science • Social change • Tech • The Next List • Video
Is this (finally) our flying car?
May 9th, 2013
03:52 PM ET

Is this (finally) our flying car?

By Doug Gross, CNN

It's one of science fiction's greatest unfulfilled promises, right up there with teleportation and time travel.

And, no, Terrafugia hasn't built us a Tardis or promised to beam us up. But they say they're closer than ever to giving us a flying car.

This week, the Woburn, Massachussetts-based aerospace company announced it has begun feasibility studies on a car capable of vertical takeoffs and landings. The TF-X would be a four-seat, plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, according to the company.

“We are passionate about continuing to lead the creation of a flying car industry and are dedicating resources to lay the foundations for our vision of personal transportation,” Terrafugia CEO Carl Dietrich said in a media release. “Terrafugia is about increasing the level of safety, simplicity, and convenience of aviation.  TF-X is an opportunity to provide the world with a new dimension of personal freedom!”

Yes, the long-awaited promise of "The Jetsons" may soon become reality.

Lest you think  the company is just getting our hopes up for some cheap publicity, know this - they've already created a flying car of sorts.

The Transition is a street-legal vehicle that's designed to fly in and out of airports. It was successfully flown for the first time in 2009. The second-generation version of the Transition performed a driving-and-flying demo last year.

The new TF-X project comes as work on the Transition shifts "from research and development to certification, production, and customer support activities," the company said.

Terrafugia says it has about 100 orders for the Transition, which goes for $279,000.

MORE: Robotic jellyfish could be undersea spy

The big difference between the Transition, which is scheduled to hit the market in 2015, and the new flying car is that the TF-X would be able to take off anywhere,  like a helicopter, and not just at an airport.

Its automation systems would make taking off and landing a self-driving process, though the driver would be able to take over manual control at any time.

Terrafugia (Latin for "escape from Earth") says it has had "preliminary conversations" with the Federal Aviation Administration about the TF-X and that the agency has "demonstrated their willingness to consider innovative technologies and regulatory solutions that are in the public interest and enhance the level of safety of personal aviation."

In other words, we might actually get to ride in one someday.

What do you think? Will we see widespread use of flying cars in our lifetimes? Let us know in the comments.

More: Rugged wheelchair offers off-road freedom for disabled

Post by:
Filed under: Culture • entrepreneurs • Future • Innovation • Tech
Testing touchscreen tables in classrooms
May 8th, 2013
05:28 PM ET

Testing touchscreen tables in classrooms

By Heather Kelly, CNN

Forget tiny iPads - the classrooms of the future might turn entire tables into interactive touchscreens.

Given that many children can sit rapturously before a glowing touchscreen for hours, such gadgets seem like a natural for the classroom. But as with any new teaching technology, it's important to make sure it actually helps students learn and teachers teach before getting caught up in its "cool" factor.

A recent study by researchers at Newcastle University in the UK took touchscreen tables into the classroom for some hands-on tests and found the technology (and training) still have to improve before they are fully effective. The researchers say theirs is one of the first studies of this type of technology in actual classrooms, instead of lab situations.

The tables were used in real classrooms over the course of six weeks for lessons in geography, English and history.  The five teachers involved in the study prepared the projects based on what the kids were currently learning in class. Each table was used by two to four students at a time, though the table's creators say it can hold up to six students. On the screen were a collaborative writing program and an app called Digital Mysteries, which were designed specifically for large tabletop PCs.

These types of tables are already commercially available and can be seen in the wild in locations like museums. SMART Technologies, for example, makes a table with a 42-inch, 1080p display for $7,749. The prices for these interactive tables will likely come down in the future, but they will still remain a big investment for any school district.

And before schools invest heavily in these kinds of tools, the study's authors say that more in-class research and tweaks to the software should be done.

Read CNN's education blog: Schools of Thought

A few of the issues raised were the same that come up in most group work. Some students would complete tasks faster than others, while others would lose focus and fall behind. Teachers in the study found they couldn't always tell when students were working versus just pretending to work and moving items around the screen.

Suggested improvements to the tools included more detailed progress indicators for the individual students. Researchers also recommend that the apps add more flexibility so that teachers can control, change and pause the lessons. In an old-school twist, researchers also recommended that the programs include an option for exporting kids' progress so they can print it out.

Researchers also emphasized the need for more teacher-friendly features and control over the apps, plus proper training for any educator who plans on integrating these types of tables with their regular classroom curriculum.

"To make the most use of them teachers have to make them part of the classroom activity they have planned – not make it the lesson activity,” said Dr Ahmed Kharrufa in a statement.

In other words, even the most advanced technology won't be able to replace good teachers.

[Via PhysOrg]

Post by:
Filed under: Education • Future • Innovation • Internet • Tech • The Next List
April 26th, 2013
02:58 PM ET

MIT’s ‘bionic man’ offers assistance to amputees of Boston bombings

Editor’s note: Jared Markowitz is a PhD candidate with Hugh Herr's Biomechatronics Group. Hugh Herr heads up MIT’s Biomechatronics Group where they invent cutting edge bionic prosthetic limbs, exoskeletons and more. Herr and his team have mobilized their resources to assist the amputee victims of the Boston bombings in some profound ways. Watch more this Saturday at 2:30 p.m. EST on CNN’s “The Next List.”

By Jared Markowitz, Special to CNN

The events in Boston last week were tragic in many ways: human suffering was on display for the world to see, a city was locked down while killers were pursued, and a nation was once again forced to recognize its vulnerability to senseless acts of violence. A week later, the wound is still fresh. Our community continues to mourn the dead, treat the injured, and search for ways to eliminate such attacks. Many lives have been altered irreversibly, yet there is also an abundance of resiliency and hope.

The bombings on Monday left many people with significant injuries and, in many cases, missing lower limbs. The horror of waking up with a different body as a result of a random act of terror should not be understated. Yet thanks to recent advances in prosthetic and rehabilitation technology, many of those who have suffered these devastating injuries have the hope of returning to a full and normal life.

There is now a bionic ankle, foot and calf system that allows the user to walk as quickly and efficiently as non-amputees. Computer-controlled prosthetic knees have been developed that adjust knee resistance continuously, allowing above-knee amputees to walk with improved versatility and stability. Lightweight, compliant running prostheses make it possible for amputees to excel in both sprinting and distance events, including marathons. These technologies are all improving rapidly, with researchers constantly striving to produce more comfortable, responsive and life-like prosthetic limbs.

Despite these advances, the road back from severe lower limb trauma can be long, arduous and expensive. To help those injured in the Boston bombings, the MIT Media Lab’s Biomechatronics Group has partnered with the Mass Technology Leadership Council and No Barriers on two initiatives.

First, we are working with the Mass Technology Leadership Council to ensure that each amputee is provided with the assistive and rehabilitative solutions that best address their injury. To that end, if you have a technology that you believe could help those who suffered traumatic injuries please contact us at www.masstlc.org.

Second, the No Barriers Boston Fund has been established to give the victims devices that will allow them to lead full and active lives. The fund will provide these people with prosthetic limbs designed for athletic activities so that they can run, bike, swim and even dance again. To donate to this important effort, please visit www.nobarriersboston.org.

The symbolism of such events occurring around the Boston Marathon is difficult to ignore. Few endeavors provide such a ready analogy for the highs and lows of life as this race; it is a celebration of the city, running and the human spirit. While the motivations of those who run the Boston Marathon vary, everyone who participates has endured the grueling training required to qualify. During the marathon, runners are tested by the hills of Newton and the unavoidable "rough patches" that come with the marathon distance. However this all melts away during the triumphant finishing stretch on Boylston Street, an experience that validates all of the struggles up to that point.

It is our hope that the trials the surviving victims are currently enduring will give way to an even greater victory.


Filed under: Events • Innovation • Science • Tech • The Next List • Video
« older posts
newer posts »