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Popular Mechanics Honors Inventions That May Change the World
Emily Gertz, 11 Oct 07
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Wednesday was the kind of day in New York City when I wished I could clone myself, be multiple places at once, and then re-integrate at the end of the evening so that I could experience it all. While I was at the Networked Journalism Summit at the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism, there was another great gathering underway: the Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Conference (click through for full coverage, including extensive video). Held at the extremely eco-friendly Hearst Building, PM's event featured talks that sound like they were right up the Worldchanging alley:

A conversation with Amory Lovins, who won a Leadership Award and offers Three Big Ideas for Efficient Big Business in PM's November issue

Low-Tech Solutions for Global Problems:

"They're not low-tech in the sense of dumbed-down," said Ashok Gadgil, a senior staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who won a Breakthrough Award this year for co-design a super-efficent cookstove refugees in the Darfur region of Sudan. "They've taken a huge amount of intellectual effort to design them and keep them simple. They are simple without compromising effectiveness."
Innovations that make life easier for the world's poor need to be affordable, repairable, reliable and environmentally sound, stressed Peter Haas, executive director and founder of the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group (AIDG). And the biggest misconception about implementing new gadgets in the third world is that knowledge only flows globally from the north to the south, he added. "There are geniuses in every village ready to make significant changes to the environment; they just don't have the access to tools, resources or time."

How to Save American Science, a panel featuring science educators Shawn Carlson a physicist and science writer, and MacArthur Fellowship winner for his approaches to science education; Hod Lipson, a Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Award 2007 winner for his Fab at Home 3D printer; New York biology teacher David Connelly; and 18-year-old Kelydra Welcker, the Popular Mechanics Next Generation Award winner for her DIY Water Cleaner.

Other award winners sound equally compelling for creating a better world:

  • A three by eight foot "Media Wall" computer that responds to touching the screen, allowing easier collaboration and innovation;

  • A small-scale wind power device called the Windbelt, "a taut membrane fitted with a pair of magnets that oscillate between metal coils. Prototypes have generated 40 milliwatts in 10-mph slivers of wind, making his device 10 to 30 times as efficient as the best microturbines."

  • highly efficient cookstoves that have saved the lives of refugees in Darfur, because they obviate the need to forage up to nine miles away from the safety of their camps; "it uses 55 to 75 percent less wood than a cooking fire, slashing the time refugees need to spend in heightened danger...each stove costs about $15 and lasts about five years."

  • And more.

"The panelists were a nice balance of our breakthrough award winners and other experts in the field," Popular Mechanics senior editor Jennifer Bogo told me in email. "The inventions were set up in the cocktail area, and it had the feel of a science fair. Harshbarger’s prosthetic arm was maneuvering around on a mannequin; Frayne’s windbelt was cranking out electricity; and Lipson’s 3-D printer was manufacturing brie and apricot hors d'oeuvres."

"The evening portion was just incredibly energizing," wrote Jennifer. "That’s the genius of this event -- getting extremely smart, innovative people from different fields in a room small enough for everyone to mingle." And, getting some attention to smart, innovative inventions that can help change the world.

Image: Kelydra Elizabeth Welcker, award winner for her DIY Water Cleaner. Courtesy Popular Mechanics.

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Thanks for writing such a nice article about some good news. I know there is plenty of good news if I search it, this great article will keep me going for awhile.

I will buy a Popular Mechanics magazine today,


Posted by: Garrett Connelly on 22 Oct 07



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