The Wonder, September 7 - Super Solar Cells, Sunlight Fuel, and Leak Detectors

INblog, technology, the wonder|BYsf appworks

A Weekly Snapshot of Life-Changing Technology

Happy Friday!

And happy birthday Google, which turned 20 years old on Tuesday.

Darius and I spent this week at the always inspiring Inbound conference in Boston. At the conference…

…Mo Gawdat, who tragically lost his son then decided to write a book about joy, showed us a new way to think about happiness.

…Deepak Chopra led us through a 10-minute meditation. Meditation is one of those things that everyone sort of knows they should do a little, but never get around to it. If you’re interested in some automated help, the leading app is Headspace.

…seasoned business exec Beth Comstock shared how she prioritizes her resources: 70% now, 20% next, 10% new.

…and Joanna Coles, author and former Chief Content Officer at Hearst Magazines, said “I don’t like the word ‘juggling’ or ‘work-life balance’. You prioritize.”

Thoughts? Disagreements? Hit reply and let us know what you’re thinking.

And now onto The Wonder.

Super Solar Cells

Scientists from the UCLA School of Engineering set a record for efficiently converting solar power with a dual-layer design.

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Andrew’s Take: The big innovation here ins’t that they found a way to double the percentage of sun that is converted (which they did), but that they found a way to double it with an easy and inexpensive solution. That makes the technology scalable and could reduce solar energy costs by 20% right off the bat.   

Darius’s Take: This researcher (Yang) and his team have been working on this for years, and now that they have hit the 20% mark, they have already announced their next goal of 30% and their efforts to make transparent solar cells (think solar panel windows). It’s a good reminder that innovation is not something to be achieved, but something to constantly work towards.

Sunlight Fuel

Meanwhile, scientists from Cambridge pioneered a new way to turn sunlight into fuel by altering the photosynthetic machinery in plants.

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Andrew’s Take: Artificial photosynthesis has been around for decades, but it relied on catalysts that are expensive and toxic. Maybe that’s why most of us have never heard about it. Semi-artificial photosynthesis, which was accomplished for the first time here, uses enzymes instead of catalysts, thus removing the scalability hurdle. In other words, this could be a game changer.

Darius’s Take: My favorite types of innovations are those that empower more people to be innovative. Similar to a new programming language, this gives scientists a new set of ‘tools’ to build and play with.

Leak Detectors

A 28-year-old MIT graduate created a leak-detecting robot that could eliminate some of the two trillion gallons of water wasted annually.

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Andrew’s Take: If you are into stories as much as I am, then you’ll love this one. Wu grew up in a small town in China where water was regularly shut off due to scarcity. He becomes obsessed with the problem and spends his 20s working towards this prototype, which is now being tested in several cities. He starts a company and is now working to put his robots in every city in the world. He saw a problem and he set out to fix it. It’s just so wonderfully human!

Also, who knew that 20% of the world’s clean water was wasted because of broken pipes?!

Darius’s Take: As we enter the age of robots, I wonder how many situations we will uncover where a robot-driven solution outperforms an existing solution. Young entrepreneurs looking for angles can look at old, partially solved problems and say “could a robot do that better?”

Speaking of water...

Scott Harrison, a NYC club promoter bored and searching for purpose, went to Africa and discovered that something as simple as clean water was out of reach to many people. He started charity: water, which has brought clean and safe water to over eight million people. Along the way, he has helped rethink the way that charities work, committing 100% of public donations to trackable water projects while using outside private investment to fund operations.

Thanks for reading! We’ll see you next week.

-Andrew and Darius