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2 posts from April 2009


Good News #50 - #58 --- Smart Drugs?, 3 New Materials, Energy, Fuel Efficiency, Space, Healing Breakthroughs


These nine GOOD NEWS ideas open our minds up to new possibilities and think through hard questions:

  • "Brain-booster" drugs bring up a hard question.
  • Smoothing bumpy roads to last much longer.
  • A battery that can handle 10 times more electricity than any other in the world.
  • Two new ways to speed and enhance medical healing.
  • Saving billions of gallons of fuel for trucks and reducing CO2 production too.
  • The importance of discovering water on Mars.
  • Two new materials with far-reaching possibilities.

REPORT BACK #2:  Based on interest and feedback about the INNOVATING in HARD TIMES online dialogue held last month with over 425 in attendance, we compiled a HIGHLIGHTS web page. It also includes information on two upcoming related dialogues May 19 and June 16. Here is a link to our announcement: http://tinyurl.com/MARCH31Highlights  

Scroll down to see my good news ideas #50 through #58...

Joel Barker-- Joel

Joel Barker
futurist, filmmaker, author


Smart drugs-75 #50 - Smart on Drugs?
This is an idea that carries both promise and threat.  A serious conversation is growing over the use of "brain-booster" drugs. These are drugs that improve your concentration and perhaps even raise your IQ. The chemicals that do this are being tested and look to be both safe and effective. 

Now, this is the HARD QUESTION:
If some kids take them and some choose not to take them, what happens to the meaning of grades and test performance, and ultimately being accepted into high ranking colleges and universities. Are these drugs just "super caffeine or something fundamentally different?

The good news: An ability to enable people to perform at higher mental levels.
The bad news: A new kind of competition for best schools and best jobs.

I think this is an important discussion for parents and kids.

Google: "brain-boosters", Henry Greely, Standford Law School, Julian Savulescu, neuroethicist

URL: http://www.technologyreview.com/biomedicine/21776/?a=f
Photo: Credit: Reid Parham


Bumpy-roads #51 - Smoothing Bumpy Roads
Mix concrete and a special polymer and you have E-Krete, a special coating that is applied to asphalt roads that need resurfacing. The result is a smooth surface that extends the life of the road by 10 years or more. And because it comes in light colors, it reflects sunlight thus reducing heat absorption in parking lots and streets. I wrote about painting roofs white and how that could help on global warming. So could light colored streets.  E-Krete is an excellent example of saving money and resources by making something last longer and helping with climate issues. Another two-fer!

Google:  E-Krete,  PolyCon Manufacturing, Madison WI

Photo: The Product Guy Blog - Nick Bajzek


Liquid Battery #52 - Liquid Battery:
a Whole New Approach
Leave it to MIT to come up with a great idea. This one is a liquid battery whose active ingredients are molten instead of solid.  I won't go into all the chemistry of this fascinating solution to big batteries because you can get that from the MIT article itself.  This battery can handle 10's of times more electricity than any other battery in the world. It is cheap and easy to manufacture because the materials are inexpensive and the "parts" are layers of liquids.

The really big deal is that this battery is so efficient that, for the first time, we can think about building a back-up for the entire national electrical grid! These batteries are great for solving the intermitency problem that wind generators have. When the wind blows at night, no one wants electricity. No big deal with this new battery. You just capture that nighttime energy with a liquid battery. It looks like five years from now, they will be commercialized.  I bet it happens faster.

URL: Technology Review published by MIT

Graphic Credit: Arthur Mount


Vomaris #53 - Electrical Healing
The paradigms keep shifting in medicine. A new pathway is "electrical healing," stimulation by electricity that causes wounds that were intractable to heal completely. The company, Vomaris has developed this technology which is being used by . Soon they plan to have an over-the-couner product. Their webs site has "vivid" pictures of before and after if you want to see the results.  This is very important for those people who have lingering sores that don't heal.

Google: Vomaris, Procellera, electric wound healing

URL: http://www.vomaris.com/



Trucks-diesel #54 - Diesel Electic Field
In January, I wrote about an experiment that improved fuel efficiency by 10% for diesel engines using a simple, small electric field generator that thins fuel which allows it to vaporize more completely. California-based Save the World Air, Inc. has taken this idea and created the Elektra fuel pump add-on, making this concept practical. For a standard truck going average over-the-road miles, this could save 2000 gallons of diesel fuel per year and significantly reduce CO2 production by that truck. Now, just think about the millions of trucks on the road and you have billions of gallons of fuel saved! The company is testing a smaller unit that could be used on diesel cars as soon as 2011.

Google: Save the World, Inc., Elektra fuel pump

URL:  http://cncmachining.wordpress.com/2009/01/29/3-clever-innovations-for-a-greener-future/


4-19-2009 5-20-01 PM-mars #55 - Water on Mars?
When I was growing up, I assumed human beings would be living on Mars by the end of the 20th century. Now new research suggests that Mars may have a lot of water easily accessible.

Why is that important? Because by breaking apart water we get oxygen so we can breath on the planet and hydrogen which will provide fuel for land rovers and our space ships. If they don't have to carry fuel for a return flight but, instead, can make it when they get to Mars, it changes the whole equation of how big the Mars space ship needs to be and what else it can carry to Mars instead of fuel.

Google:  water on Mars

URL: http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/solarsystem/mars_water_000620.html


Anti-matter #56 - Antimatter easy to make?
Lawrence Livermore National Lab has developed a cheap and easy way to make lots of antimatter. For outer space devotees, this is a big deal because if you can store it, you have the ultimate fuel. Mix a little antimatter with water, for instance, and you get a whole lot of thrust as atoms anhilate one another. Next to antigravity, antimatter is a big deal for space travel.

Google: antimatter, Lawrence Livermore

URLS: http://www.nanotechwire.com/news.asp?nid=6920 and




-shell-sm #57 - Seashells by the Nanoscore
balone shell is one tough material. Made from simple elements and a living animal. Pretty amazing when you think of it. Now, using nano and microscale elements, human beings have created a hybrid material that mimicks sea shell. Lightweight and strong and tough, a great combination. California researchers teamed together to use aluminum oxide and a special polymer to mimic the natural shell. The result is 300 times tougher than either of the materials by itself. What would you like to make out of this stuff?

Google: Antoni Tomsia, nacre imitation, microscale bricks

URL: http://www.technologyreview.com/energy/22138/page2/


Laser-bonded-healing #58 - Invisible Scars
Surgeons at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at Massecusetts General Hospital have devised a way to use lasers to seal up surgical wounds with almost no scaring. Using the heat a laser can precisely generate, they carefully weld skin back together with the results being hard to see with the naked eye. This new technology will allow surgeons to do their work in places that have been too public for scaring before. And since the "welding" seals up everything with no stitches to worry about, it is less likely to get infected and more likely to hold up to the stresses of everyday behavior.

Google:  laser-bonded healing

URL:  http://www.trendhunter.com/trends/nano-sutures-laser-bonded-healing


GOOD NEWS #41 - #49---Energy, Research, Materials, Medicine, Transportation, Ecosystems, Climate Change


This time, I'm sharing NINE "good news" ideas that will be shaping our future. I've included:

  • a source of a great overview on ENERGY
  • a breakthrough battery
  • a new ocean exploration vehicle
  • a paint that "heals" its own scratches
  • an electronic pill
  • a new antibiotics paradigm
  • how asphalt is being created from old tires
  • an answer to how do you make more fertile soil?
  • news about whiter clouds cooling the earth

On March 31, as I previously mentioned, I teamed up with long-time colleague, Debbe Kennedy for an online dialogue at the Global Dialogue Center on the timely topic of  "Innovating in Hard Times" We explored the ideas explored in my new 2009 film, Innovation at the Verge and five qualities for leadership that are essential for innovation in the 21st Century. I wanted report back that over 400 leaders and innovators turned out for this important conversation. They came from across industries and areas of expertise from 20 countries, including at least one person from all 50 states in the United States. We shared best practices and learned a great deal from one another. Based on the value attendees expressed, we plan to do an encore. Should you want to be included, please leave a comment to let us know how to reach you. 

Scroll down to see my good news ideas #41 through #49...

Joel Barker-- Joel

Joel Barker
futurist, filmmaker, author


NGcover_energy-sm #41 - A Great Energy Overview

National Geographic has produced an excellent energy overview as part of its March 2009 issue. It covers the spectrum of solutions, both for producing sustainable electricity and liquid fuels.

National Geographic  March 2009  "ENERGY: Repowering Our Planet."

Online URL: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/03/energy-issue/table-of-contents



Battery-MITNews-Donna-Coveneyv2 #42 - A Breakthrough Battery
We should give MIT a special award from the nation for all the good ideas it is generating. Now, its researchers have found a new way to make lithium batteries that allows them to be charged in a matters of seconds instead of hours!  This a true paradigm shift because it so dramatically changes the boundaries of batteries and the kinds of problems batteries will be able to solve.  Charging your car after 250 miles of driving will take less time than going instead the station to buy a cup of coffee. And, of course, this new approach may work with other battery technologies as well.

One caveat: you need to be able to push a lot of electrons into the batteries to get fast charging. You won't be able to do that at home, even with a 220 circuit, but it will still be faster than the old batteries and you won't care because your car is charging overnight.  But, the need for lots of electrons fast keeps the value of the "gas" station. If it is properly retro-fitted, you could recharge your car there rapidly. And you will be happy to pay for the convenience. So, it could be a win/win/wi--for gas stations, for car owners and for the environment.

Google: MIT battery breakthrough, fast-charging lithium batteries
Photo: MIT News Donna Coveney




4-5-2009 6-38-50 PM #43 - Sailing the Oceans Blue
Most people never think about the following fact:  we know more about the surface of the Moon than we do about the floors of our oceans. A new vessel has been designed and commissioned by NOAA to start to change all that. Its permanent mission is to explore the deepest parts of the seas. It will be using an advanced sonar system to map the oceans' floors and deploying robots to examine unexplored territory. It will also be communicating back to home base using a very high bandwidth which means video signals from the robots will be good enough for television. And, of course, it will be inventorying creatures that have never been seen before.

For your children who want adventure and exploration, the ocean is one of the two most important last frontiers.

Image: NOAA - Ocean Explorer Site





Nissan-Scratch-Guard-Coat #44 - Paint that Fixes Its Own Scratches

The end of scratches on cars could be just around the corner. A company in Illinois has developed a technology that lets car paint fix itself, almost like blood clotting. While cars will probably be is most visible use, it will have a huge impact on paints that are used to protect very expensive machinery, heavy equipment, even oil rigs where the paint is being constantly attacked by the weather.

Google: self-healing paint  "Autonomic Materials"





IPill-Phillips-v2 #45 - "The Electronic Pill"
Think about swallowing a pill to take care of an illness. Except this pill is unlike any other because it is electronic. As it passes through your digestive system, it takes measurements of your health and then releases specific drugs to heal you with just the right dosage at just the right place. And when it is done, you simply pass it out.

Google: iPill; electronic pill




The-Next-Phage-part #46 - A Whole New Paradigm of Antibiotics
Here's the short form of this new concept: Phages(a special form of viruses) can kill drug resistant bacteria safely. The long form can be found in an extraordinary article in Popular Science April 2009. It turns out that Eastern European countries have been using, cultivating, and improving phages for antibiotics for decades. Yet, in the USA, they are not allowed. The irony is that prior to the rise of penicillin, doctors in the USA routinely used phages.

We have a antibiotic resistance problem in 70% of hospital-borne infections in the USA. It is clear phages open a new pathway to stop that problem. But, because it is a different paradigm, there is substantial resistance. The good news is you can fly to Europe and buy phages over-the-counter. The bad news is, you can't do it here yet.

This is going to be very important, if for no other reason, the climbing costs of hospital infection.

IMAGE: Full image and story: http://www.popsci.com/scitech/article/2009-03/next-phage

Google: Phage,  bacteriophages 

(this will take you to the Popular Science article itself)


Tire-Road #47- Where the Rubber Meets the Road

A Spanish company named Repsol has developed a new technology that turns old tires into an advanced asphalt that last longer than standard asphalt and improves its grip.  Given the fact the the United states, all by itself, creates 190 million used tires every year, this could be another Two-fer: get rid of the tires while reducing the need to use new material to create asphalt. It would be interesting to see if Repsol has done a count of their "raw materials."  It has got to be in the billions of tires.

(A little research shows that this is an old technology, but not broadly used. Yet. So, Repsol is starting the conversation again. Maybe this time, it will catch on.The third reference below is a report from the city of Phoenix where they have been using rubberized asphalt since the 1960's with very positive results.)

Google: Repsol,  tires into asphalt





Soil-fertility #48 - Diversity and Fertility: How to Get Better Soil

The University of Minnesota , my alma mater, has been leading the world in ecological research at its Cedar Creek Facility. Most recently work done there demonstrates that biodiversity increases soil fertility. The old paradigm of soil fertility suggested that it takes decades for soil fertility to come back after the nutrients have been take out. Now it looks like it can happen much quicker if there is a high diversity of plants engaged in restoring the soil. This also suggests that using a variety of prairie plants could increase crop yields for cellulosic biofuels even as the soil is being made healthier at the same time.  Add this research to the research on terra Preta (see my earlier post) and we may be heading toward a new golden age of soil, the life blood of all civilizations!

Google: Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve, University of Minnesota soil fertility, David Tilman



White clouds #49 - Creating Whiter Clouds to Cool the Earth
John Latham, atmospheric physicist and engineer Stephen Salter has designed a special ship that sails the seas to change the temperature of the atmosphere. It sprays seawater droplets up into the atmosphere where they would increase the density of the clouds. The increased density makes the clouds whiter and therefore reflects back into space more heat. End result, the temperature of the planet is lowered. The best deal about this idea from my point of view is it is completely controllable. You aren't doing something so vast that you can't stop it. We will need that kind of ability to fine-tune because there is still a lot we don't understand about the global warming issue.

Google:  John Latham, Clouds for cooling

URL: http://www.wfs.org/Jan-Feb%2009/VisionariesMA09.htm (Neat picture)   http://www.ucar.edu/communications/staffnotes/0405/latham.html      http://www.planetwork.net/climate/cooling/Global%20Cooling%204-08.pdf