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15th March 2017
This is an interview I gave at CPAC Water Policy Interview with KLRN Radio San Antonio Texas.
There are a number of commercials before my segment begins. You’ll want to skip to minute 2.20 for the interview.
03rd March 2017
When I was a boy, my folks told stories I thought were passed down to them through the generations about the America their people heard about in the 1700’s before they sailed west from Europe to the new world. It was an America with rivers so rich with fish that you could walk across the water on the backs of fish. They were just that densely packed. You could shoot game for dinner from the front door of your log cabin. The soil was so fertile you needed to jump aside once you planted a seed– or else– the new stalk springing up –would knock you down. These were the stories in the 1700’s that floated back to Europe and caused people to sail west over a strange ocean to a stranger world. Jesus literally called them to cross the waters.
My folks–or their folks– may have read the stories in books. You may have read these stories too. I know I did as well.
However the stories came down, the point was the same. America was a place of unlimited abundant natural resources where –with a bit of pluck –even the meanest soul could prosper.
And so America remained: a world unlimited natural resources even past the end of the frontier in the 1890’s. It was held that way by the exponential improvement of technology to extract resources. In 1830, a canal was installed beside the Juniata River in Central Pennsylvania to connect Pittsburg and Philadelphia. The canal was not far from my Great Great Great Grandfather’s house. Canals are roughly a 4000 year old technology. The earliest examples have been found in Mesopotamia or current Iraq. In 1849, a railroad was installed not far away. It instantly obsoleted the canal and made local farmers quite prosperous. My great grandfather contributed to the construction of a local Presbyterian church in Port Royal in 1880. His name remains in the stained glass. But after 1920, the railroads in conjunction with the new tractors run by internal combustion engines brought a flood of grain to markets from the Midwest that collapsed the price of grain. Most of my father’s generation were driven off the eastern farms. For decades you could see old dead barns beside the highways along the eastern seaboard. They were all torn down and sold in the 1990’s because their (antique) oak and chestnut fetched 3-5 times the price of new lumber.
Meanwhile the big Midwestern farms have continued their improvements in output. In the 1940’s they introduced nitrogen and phosphorous. In the 1960’s they introduced pesticides & herbicides. In the 1990 they introduced better hybrids and in the 2000’s agriculture went high tech and introduced genetic engineering. NAFTA in 1990’s exposed Mexican farmers to the Midwestern farms. Like my father’s generation of eastern farmers the Mexican farmers were wiped out. These farmers came north.
As early as 1798, Malthus argued that while technology improved arithmetically (or linearly) population increased exponentially (or geometrically). Here’s how Wikipedia puts it:
Malthus came to prominence for his 1798, essay on population growth. In it, he argued that population multiplies geometrically and food arithmetically; therefore, whenever the food supply increases, population will rapidly grow to eliminate the abundance. Between 1798 and 1826 he published six editions of An Essay on the Principle of Population, updating each edition to incorporate new material, to address criticism, and to convey changes in his own perspectives on the subject. He wrote the original text in reaction to the optimism of his father and his father’s associates (notably Rousseau) regarding the future improvement of society.
Malthus was proved wrong because successive waves of technology in the 19th and 20th century kept that world of unlimited natural resources alive. Why? Because even as populations exploded exponentially–technology improved exponentially– not linearly as Malthus argued.
That world of actual and perceived abundance in America continued even into the 1960’s.
My dad was stationed in the Presidio, San Francisco and Fort Ord, California in the early 60’s. Those areas were so cheap the middle class could live there. Not just houses but gas was cheap.
The future was even brighter and just around the corner. We were told that nuclear power would make energy too cheap to meter. Large scale space travel was a mere decade or two away. Cheap energy and desalinated water would open up all the world’s deserts to agriculture –starting with the deserts of southern California. Somehow everyone who was a kid from that period remembers the TV show called the Jetsons. That was the future. And it wasn’t that far away.
None of that promised future happened. It was all swept aside in the 1970’s. Nuclear energy development & water desalination research stopped. The era of dam building ended. Space exploration was scaled back. Gas prices exploded in 1973 (because of OPEC). Nuclear power prices exploded (because of Three Mile Island). Most of the international nuclear and desalination business went overseas. The Oroville dam in California that’s currently under stress was built in the 60’s. Like most of the rest of California’s water Infrastructure–no further money was provided for its maintenance. That type of dam only has a shelf life of 50 years.
Because pushing for ever lower energy and water costs is basic to civilizations health–and foundational to the industrial success of the USA in the 19th and 20th centuries –something really basic to American civilization… broke. (The anvil for was the immigration act of 1965 and roe v wade in 1971. The hammer was the Viet Nam war)
After 1970, or so space travel went from a decade or two in the future –or the near future– to a century or two in the future –or the far future–or past. The first Star Trek that came out in 1969, took place from 2250-2295. The first star wars came out in 1977, was supposed to have taken place “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away”.
Secular visions of near future did something radically different to the American experience. They turned profoundly dystopian. 2001 Space Odyssey released in 1968– began in ancient times with starving apes in the desert confronted by an alien obelisk and ended 30 years in the future with a computer gone mad in space and humans turned infantile–in the face of the same alien obelisk. The Mad Max series all took place in a desert with little to no water. As late as 2014, the movie Interstellar begins with the premise of worldwide famine so terrible that the only hope for mankind is another world somewhere in the galaxy.
This time last year I flew down to Port Canaveral for a cruise to the Western Caribbean. Across the bay is Cape Canaveral. A few days before we set sail. Elon Musk’s SpaceX took off and landed on a barge in the Atlantic. That was something that no aerospace company had been able to do in 50 years. Musk’s feat promises to slash the cost of space travel dramatically–because most of the cost of going into space consists of the cost of getting the first 200 miles off the planet’s surface. It made me dream that maybe –if I could stay healthy — in 20 years the cost of low earth orbit space flight might come down to where the middle class could afford it. I remembered the Jetsons.
From Port Canaveral we sailed across the Caribbean to Cancun. I took a tour of an old Mayan city called Tulum. Tulum had its astronomers too. This city was a walled enclosure with an entrance so tiny that we were forced to walk through single file. Inside were two square towers aligned east-west. Each tower had a square hole in the middle that sunlight would come through perfectly at summer and winter solstice. This marked the time for planting. The Central Americans are so deeply attached to the rising sun that their graves to this day all face due east.
The ability to reveal the summer and winter solstice gave the priest class and aristocracy of the old Mayas so much power — they were supported in everything by the farmers outside the walls.
Sometimes things did not go well. The rains didn’t come for a season or two.
In such instances the aristocracy of Maya thought it an honor to give themselves up for sacrifice. Their hearts were cut out and offered to their gods to bring back the rains. The rains returned.
The system went on for about 600 years from about 200 AD to 800 AD.
Then something happened.
About 800 AD the climate changed. This is the beginning of what has come to be known as the Medieval Warming Period. It went on for about 500 years from 800-1300. In the north the weather got warmer.
The Viking population exploded. They outstripped the ability of their lands to produce food for themselves. So they sailed south to raid, and to establish new colonies in England Ireland France and Russia. They sent outposts to Iceland and what was then Greenland. Their most adventurous explorers even traced the outlines of North America.
The same warming did some very interesting things in North America. It caused the rains to diminish so that the flooding stopped in the most fertile flood plains of the Mississippi River basin in south western
Illinois. Indians–likely ancestors of Choctaw-Chickasaw judging by their origin stories– came down from the high plains and started farming corn on the floodplains and developed the biggest earth pyramids in North America at place known as Cahokia.
On my trip to the Yucatan last year I learned that the rains also stopped in Central America. There the rain stopped in 800 AD. Naturally the nobility and priest classes offered themselves up for sacrifice. But the rains didn’t return as usual. So they kept on sacrificing themselves.
As the decades wore on and the rains still didn’t fall–sections of the leadership of Mayan cities all over Central America were sacrificed–including their children. They were so weakened that in 880 AD– the Toltec’s from Central Mexico invaded the Yucatan.
They had a different sacrificial procedure.
They would raid neighboring cities in order to take prisoners from the warriors and elites and sacrifice them. (The Aztecs learned their sacrificial practices from the Toltec’s.) The Toltec practice spread all over the Mayan cities of Central America.
In an orgy of wars over the next century the Mayans succeeded in killing off all the people in their cities. Leaving only farmers outside the walls to dig out a living.
Still the rains didn’t come. Mel Gibson’s movie Apocolypto gives a good visual of that time–except that Gibson shows a Spanish ship in the end his movie. The problem was that the Spanish arrived in Central America about 1519 or 500 years after the Mayans killed themselves and emptied their cities. 200 years before the Spanish arrived — the medieval warm ended in Europe. The rains returned to central and north America. The jungles grew over the old empty Mayan cities and the Cahokia was flooded out.
Unlike the Mayas in the Yucatan, the Middle East had an immense experience with drought going into prehistory.
The Middle East and North Africa were once a green savanna. About 5000 years ago or 3000 BC the rains stopped. The monsoon rains moved south. Over just 100 years the green savannahs of North Africa turned into the Sahara desert.
Scientists know this because they have taken core samples of the Atlantic floor off North Africa where the winds blow the deserts dust out to sea. They have found its all dust down to a layer about 5000 years ago– or 3000 BC.
Then the sediment lower down becomes full of pollen that normally grows from a savannah. The Sahara desert today is dotted with the bleached bones of hippopotamus, rhino giraffes, gazelles and a dozen other animals normally found further south in well-watered plains.
People of the period drew pictures of these game animals on the walls of caves in what is now the Sahara. From space scientists can see the curved outlines of massive lakes and long rivers all over North Africa.
The famous Sahara desert oasis are like the tips of icebergs–because beneath the Sahara today there are giant freshwater fossil water aquifers. http://news.mit.edu/2016/saharan-dust-monsoons-1123
Fossil water means the water was deposited 1000’s of years ago. Up until 40 years ago these same fossil aquifers underlay Saudi Arabia. But then the Saudis pumped the fossil water out to grow wheat in the desert. Over a period of 20 years they became the world’s fifth largest wheat producer. Then their wells ran dry. The water ran out. They don’t grow wheat anymore.
These droughts in the Middle East were not just a one-time event. They were a repeating problem.
Drought was one (of several) reasons for the collapse of the late bronze age. Between c. 1200 and 1150 BC drought helped destroy dozens of kingdoms in Greece Asia Minor Israel/Syria and Egypt.
A thousand years before the collapse of the late Bronze Age kingdoms mentioned above– drought also destroyed the early kingdoms of the 3rd millennium BC. Archeologists have learned to read the writing of the empires of the third millennium BC (2000-3000 BC)–& correlated those with earth core samples from the period and found that the Akkadians of Mesopotamia and the Old Kingdom of Egypt collapsed because of drought about 2150 BC.
Here is a list of civilization destroyed by drought. http://www.marionbrady.com/worldhist/DroughtCivilizCollapse.pdf
The bible picks up this narrative in the drought that starved Israel –but because of Joseph’s planning– not Egypt– in the time of Jacob and Joseph–or about +-1600 BC. By this time recurring and extended droughts had been going on for over a 1000 years.
Egypt had the benefit of the Nile which brought fresh water from the well-watered jungles of the far south. Canaan had no such secure water supply. The Canaanites were acutely aware of the limits of their resources. The land–and technology– could only support so many people. Because they were polytheists –meaning they were self-centered–(rather than God centered) they would have seen their choice as Hobbesian. Either cull their own people or be culled by nature. Why do I suggest this? I have read recent archeology pieces that have talked about how child sacrifice was not just a means to appease the gods of the Canaanites but also a primitive form of birth control. Sometimes but not always the children sacrificed were the children birthed by temple prostitutes.
The archaeological evidence comes from the Carthaginians who were a Phoenician colony. The Phoenicians were a Canaanite people. The gods of the Canaanites in Joshua’s time were the same as the gods of the Carthaginians 1200 years later and 2000 miles west in modern day Tunisia. What the archeologist have found in Carthage is a vast graveyard for baby bones all burned on one side. They date the bones to a 200 year period from roughly 400 AD to 200 BC. They have even been able to correlate their death dates to periods of drought. They have found that the death dates of the babies come in clusters centered on periods of drought and famine.
I wanted to be scrupulous about this proof because it puts on a still heavier weight to the faith of Abraham in nature’s God when he stayed his hand with Isaac– even in the face of nature’s coming betrayal. After all, the starving time did come to Abraham’s people in the time of his grandson.
Why is this important?
The foreboding about the future that would have been in the land of limited resources in Canaan in Abraham’s time is also with us today.
It began in the 1970’s when a radical shift in American culture occurred and caused secular Sci Fi movies to turn dystopian about fate of the world in the near future. The US went from a world (and world view) of population growth in the context of unlimited natural resources –that had been in effect since the discovery of the new world–to a world after 1970 — of population control in the context of limited resources.
Not coincidentally the US has shifted in subsequent decades from a Judeo Christian world view to what can best be characterized as a Canaanite world view. This cultural change has coincided in the west with a crumbling in the face of Islam.
What is the connection between a Canaanite world view and weakness in the face of Islam?
As it happens –it’s worth noting one of Winston Churchill’s famous quotes. Back in 1899– after his participation in a war in the Sudan, he said.
Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen: all know how to die: but the influence of the religion paralyzes the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science—the science against which it had vainly struggled—the civilization of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient Rome.
Islam being monotheistic is inherently stronger than pagan religions–whether those pagan religions are practiced officially in Africa or unofficially in Europe and America.
Ok so there is the weakness in the face of Islam. But what caused the secular cultural shift in the 1970’s, from a Christian world view to the Canaanite world view–in the first place.
The short answer is western civilization having shifted its faith from Christianity to Science (as mentioned by Churchill) — western civilization in the 1970’s lost faith in science to deliver the future–(because of some pseudo-science–as I’ll show).
As a result–there was a civilization wide failure of nerve.
But Unlike the Mayans or the Canaanites there were not famines in the west.
Rather resources became more expensive.
In the 1970’s gas prices exploded (because of OPEC). Nuclear power prices exploded (because of Three Mile Island). That was about it. These things caused loss of wealth and opportunity but not starvation.
So why this great fear of famine.
Something else must have been at work.
The fear of famine didn’t come from the US or Europe. Rather it came from India or Mexico or other parts of what was then known as the 3rd world.
The change in culture did not come so much because of extreme events like drought or famine–or objective events.
Rather they came about because of a change in world view. The USA and Europe internalized the fear and envy of what was then called the 3rd world. How does that happen? Atheists have no protection from envy. What the 1960’s, is famous for is the excellence of western/American science and technology and the passions of nonwestern peoples. America put a man on the moon and the European empires collapsed and American cities burned.
There were two books of the period that rocked the academic world. The first was Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 book The Population Bomb and the second was the Club of Rome 1972 book called The Limits Of Growth
According to Wikipedia:
The Population Bomb is a best-selling book written by Stanford University Professor Paul R. Ehrlich and his wife, Anne Ehrlich (who was uncredited), in 1968. It warned of the mass starvation of humans in the 1970s and 1980s due to overpopulation, as well as other major societal upheavals, and advocated immediate action to limit population growth. Fears of a “population explosion” were widespread in the 1950s and 1960s, but the book and its author brought the idea to an even wider audience. The book has been criticized since its publishing for its alarmist tone, and in recent decades for its inaccurate predictions. The Ehrlichs stand by the basic ideas in the book, stating in 2009 that “perhaps the most serious flaw in The Bomb was that it was much too optimistic about the future” and believe that it achieved their goals because “it alerted people to the importance of environmental issues and brought human numbers into the debate on the human future.”
This picture of population growth is again presented by a conservative Roy Beck in 2015.
–and a liberal Hans Rosling in 2010
They both show a steadily declining percentage of western peoples to the rest of the world.
In 1971 the Supreme Court passed Roe V Wade.
As to the second book … The Limits of Growth that came out in 1972–according to Wikipedia:
The original version presented a model based on five variables: world population, industrialization, pollution, food production and resources depletion. These variables are considered to grow exponentially, while the ability of technology to increase resources availability is only linear. Two of the scenarios saw “overshoot and collapse” of the global system by the mid to latter part of the 21st century, while a third scenario resulted in a “stabilized world.”
The third possibility where there was a “stabilized world” involved population control.
The Limits Of Growth made the same point that Malthus did in 1798. Population grows exponentially while technology grows linearly. While Malthus was ignored in 1798–the Limits of Growth became gospel for secular society.
So why was Malthus ignored and the Club Of Rome’s Limits of Growth turned into gospel?
Because the underlying Christian faith of western civilization had rotted out. (The modern reason for the rot in the public culture of the USA has to do with the work of the Frankfurt School in American Universities. The ultimate reason for the rot in the USA and Europe is because of a mistake that Calvin made.)
Into the void rushed the emotion and imaginations of other cultures.
The Limits of Growth –like computer simulations of weather hundreds of years in the future — was a projection. A bit of imaginative math– a kind of pseudoscience.
As CS Lewis put it — as the basis for action “the battle is between faith and reason on one side and emotion and imagination on the other”. Emotion and imagination won out in the 1970’s.
To understand this consider that reason and faith would have dictated that the people best equipped to deal with exponential population growth by exponentially increasing technological improvements would be most likely to keep up high birth rates whereas the people least equipped to exponentially improve technology would be most likely to reduce their birthrates. Instead it has been just the opposite. The west along with every other technologically advanced country now in the world have been no wiser than the Mayans.
What does emotion and imagination do?
The problem stated by the Population Bomb and the Limits Of Growth had its best expression in the terrifying story of Easter Island. A friend of mine was there recently. This is the sort of image that the liberals have imagined around the child bed of their followers. This is a true story but a false analogy.
In 1200 AD Polynesians sailing east across the pacific from Australian waters landed on the south Pacific island we call Easter Island. It was a lush island covered with palm trees.
Over the next 300 years the population grew to about 14000. The settlers cut down the trees to clear lands, make boats and provide rolling logs to move the idols of their ancestors into place. The problem was that they brought rats with them. The rats ate palm seeds so no new palm trees grew. Eventually they stripped the island of all its trees so they could not build boats to get off the island.
They were marooned. Rain stripped the soil. They couldn’t fish.
The island could not support the population. Cannibalism set in. They killed and ate each other for two centuries before the first Europeans arrived in the early 1700’s. By that time the Easter Island population had declined to under 2000. The people sheltered in caves to defend themselves from each other. The idols to their ancestors had been tipped over and lay face down.
This is the image of the fate of earth that the Limits of Growth and the Population Bomb painted. A planet marooned in space destined to overpopulate and strip itself of resources.
In the end people will resort to cannibalism. There will be a population crash. This happens all the time in nature in predator prey relationships.
Why not with people? Certainly it has happened in the past as with Easter Island.
Even Google’s deep mind has found that when it sets two computer factions against each other for limited resources –they will resort to increasingly violent (computer) behavior.
To prevent this– the logical thing to do according to liberals is to limit population growth and move to development that can be sustained via green energy sources that are renewable over many millennium.
The dangers foreseen by the Limits of Growth and the Population Bomb have not been wrong.
While starvation has not affected the west–Extended drought has not gone away. Up until recently–the desert southwest and California have both been hit by drought since about the year 2000.
Both California and the southwest have been saved by the foresight of the generations of people that lived there from 1900-1970. They built an immense water works system that has not been updated for almost 50 years– even as the population has doubled.
Jerry Brown’s father, Pat Brown, back in the 1960’s– was the last of the governors who planned for the future. The environmentalists after 1970, killed most water works plans.
The same drought that hit the US southwest and California also hit Israel and Syria about the year 2000.
Syria– in the face of drought– rolled over and died. The farmer’s lands all dried up. They were wiped out. They all migrated to Syria’s cities. They then became tinder for the civil war there and the mass migration to Europe.
Something very different happened in Israel. Israel demonstrated that the Club of Rome’s Limits of Growth was wrong –just as Malthus was before them. Israel demonstrated that technology can increase resource availability not linearly –but rather, exponentially.
I can recall as a boy in the 1960’s being told about the starving Indians in India. (And therefor eat your beets, broccoli or asparagus). The USA and parts of Europe experienced abundance but not much of the rest of the world. The developed world had long lives and small families whereas the underdeveloped world had short lives and large families. Hans Rosling graphs this well in the “greatest graphs ever shown”. It shows that since the 1960’s most of the world has been trending toward longer lives and smaller families. There has been an explosion of wealth around the world including Mexico and India. They are living longer and eat better. To the point that American health and wealth stats today are similar to the rest of the world.
No scenario in the Limits of Growth projected a world in which the technology changes rapidly enough to return the world to say–a pre-1970’s American condition. A world of unlimited natural resources—and therefor a world ripe for unlimited population growth.
I first encountered this possibility on a business trip to San Francisco a couple of years ago. The zeitgeist of the area reminded me of the early 60’s. I recalled as a kid the world seemed like it was on the technological edge beyond which were limitless possibilities. More importantly –there was profound confidence in technology to take us there.
Then in 2014 the Israelis announced that they had become water independent. How to understand this?
In 2006 a group of Israeli desalination plant managers, government officials, and businessmen flew over for a conference in Chrystal city VA with US desalination experts. I attended the conference and peppered the Israelis with numerous recommendations on how best to reduce desalination costs. I reported on that conference in a blog I wrote at the time that was popular with the desalination research community. http://www.rdwaterpower.com/?s=israel&x=0&y=0
In the time since that conference the Israelis have developed a world class water desalination system at the world’s lowest cost. They have achieved a feat of literally biblical proportions. They have freed Israel from drought virtually forever.
Their most recent plants– desalinate their water for about $500@acre foot and send it to their cities. Then they clean the water to brown water standards and send the water to their fields.
There is something more.
By reducing desalination costs to a quarter of current US desalination costs– the Israelis have brought the world within striking distance of a goal I mentioned at RDWaterPower.com 10 years ago.
If water desalination were moved from the business level to the political level. For example, there would, imho, be a political benefit to a joint statement made by the US President and the Prime Minister of Israel to the effect that the two countries planned to work together collapse the cost of water desalination by a factor of 10 in the next 10 years–and thereby make it economically possible to turn the world’s deserts green — and double the size of the habitable planet.
I think that this would have the same effect as Reagan’s Star Wars Speech. That speech changed the future because it changed the bad guy’s expectations about the future.
Former Prime Minister Shimon Peres has been actively pushing for Israel to get involved with nanotechnology as a way to reduce costs for things such as desalination. Senator Domenici of New Mexico has been championing desalination research in the USA. But neither the Kadima Party or the Republican Party leadership currently recognize the profound impact on world affairs that cheap desalinated water would have–and how close that reality is. Someone might want to get leadership up to speed on this.
What would the policy look like today?
The UN has major policy initiatives on both water and CO2. CO2 gets all the headlines. The policy would be to shift the headlines to water.
Specifically, the policy is to kill the cost of American water and energy so desert and even subarctic farming anywhere on earth and mars is profitable–and advance vertical farming. The trump administration has already announced its energy policy is to make America energy independent. Trump also mentioned energy “dominance” last year in his North Dakota speech last year. So what I’m talking about is in line with his already stated vision—because the cost of energy is 30-50% of the cost of water.
Here is one of many specific example of an initiatives that I would advance.
Trump is such a PT Barnum that he could go to the United Nations and with the sound track of 2001 Space Odyssey playing –announce a worldwide contest. A prize of $100 million dollars would be awarded to the first company that could make 10 products profitably from seawater on three continents—excluding salt and water. The first group to desalinate seawater for $400@acre foot on three oceans would get 1 billion dollars and an obelisk on earth and mars deserts with their name on it plus the name of the sponsor who put up the 1 billion dollars prize. When that goal is achieved, then the first group to desalinate seawater for $300@acre foot on three oceans would get 1 billion dollars with their name on it plus the name of the sponsor who put up the 1 billion dollars on the same obelisk on earth and mars deserts. Rinse repeat for $200@acre foot and $100@acre foot. Prize contributors and contestant winners would get obelisks on earth and Mars deserts with their names on them. All the Obelisks would have the cross of Christ on them.
Trump could probably get a couple billionaires to kick in the prize money if they were promised that their names would be on a small obelisk on Mars.
(There is method to setting up contests as they generally produce 10 times more research than just allocating the resource. So a billion dollar prize would generate 10 billion worth of R&D. Also the big prize might entice Elon Musk into the game because he’ll need desalination technology for his Mars program slated to reach mars in 2024)
(But really funding for desalination and energy research could be structured many different ways.)
Another idea is to reclassify nuclear technology to that of a renewable energy so as to make it eligible for already allocated DOD energy related funding.
I have dozens more ideas like this.
The technology to double –even triple the size of habitable earth is only about 10 years off. It’s going to happen anyway. Water desalination cheap enough for desert farming is going to happen anyway.
What’s more, there is an agricultural revolution being born today called vertical farming.
This technology uses water so efficiently that even today’s expensive desalinated water is profitable for farming.
Vertical farming is as profound as the Neolithic revolution that started farming in the first place 10,000 years ago. Vertical farming reduces the chances of world starvation to virtually zero for… hundreds of years even when the population of earth is 10 times the size of today’s population. That’s long enough to provide the time needed to acquire the technology to launch people to the stars.
(As to going to the stars–the chances of earth being marooned are starting to abate. –At his wedding in January my rocket scientist nephew informed that the recently NASA announced eM drive –is, in fact, a warp drive.)
If what I’m talking is going to happen anyway–what’s the point of bringing it to the attention of the Trump administration?
Creating a vision actually organizes and reshapes the world because it changes people’s assumptions about the future and organizes work so as to make that future happen expeditiously. For example the democrat’s green energy vision has collapsed the cost of wind and solar to a fraction of what they were a decade ago.
Further a green earth policy undermines the reason for abortion and the Canaanite world view.
As well, as I mentioned the Trump administration by promulgating this Green Earth vision over on top of the democrats green energy vision–advances the republican agenda while scrambling the democrat party on many levels.
Then of course there is the geopolitical calculations I mentioned before. North Africa and Mexico –instead of being conduits for refugees – become buffer states. China’s habitable size nearly doubles.
The real question is one of who gets the credit for returning the world to a state of unlimited natural resources and thereby killing the raison d’être for limiting birth rate because of limited resources–this the Canaanite world view … that the west has lived under since the 1970’s.
Leftist blogs are already talking about how technology’s exponential growth may keep up with population growth. But they do not have a grand vision as yet. A grand vision would look like a Green Earth policy for the republicans where the goal would be to create and implement the technology to double or triple the size of habitable earth.
This policy is much more expansionist and offensive than the liberal’s defensive Green Energy policy. I don’t think we would be met with unwilling administration ears on this.
Peter Thiel, Trump’s Liaison to Silicon Valley — made a speech at the republican convention last year in which he described the whole of America of the early 60’s in similar terms as I did of just the San Francisco California when I was a boy. Thiel said:
Where I work in Silicon Valley, it’s hard to see where America has gone wrong. My industry has made a lot of progress in computers and in software, and, of course, it’s made a lot of money. But Silicon Valley is a small place. Drive out to Sacramento, or even just across the bridge to Oakland, and you won’t see the same prosperity. That’s just how small it is.
Back when my parents came to America looking for that dream, they found it right here in Cleveland. They brought me here as a one-year-old and this is where I became an American. Opportunity was everywhere. My dad studied engineering at Case Western Reserve University, just down the road from where we are now. Because in 1968, the world’s high tech capital wasn’t just one city: all of America was high tech.
It’s hard to remember this, but our government was once high tech, too. When I moved to Cleveland, defense research was laying the foundations for the internet. The Apollo program was just about to put a man on the moon–and it was Neil Armstrong, from right here in Ohio. The future felt limitless.
Finally Trump himself in his inauguration speech said:
Finally, we must think big and dream even bigger. In America, we understand that a nation is only living as long as it is striving.
We stand at the birth of a new millennium ready to unlock the histories of space, to free the earth from the miseries of disease and to harness the energies, industries, and technologies of tomorrow. http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/full-text-president-donald-trumps-inauguration-speech/story?id=44915821
But there is more. A grand vision to turn the earth green would provide the opportunity to take credit for the Judeo/Christian tradition and more specifically Christ. Getting the Judeo/Christian tradition and Christ credit for restoring hope to the world–rather than just technology–will provide faith and strength to the world when the current technological wave weakens and slows–as it will in time–(but no time soon)
We’re talking about putting Christ on an Obelisk on Earth and Mars for starters. A small Obelisk might be something Musk would carry with him to Mars in 2024. Trump could set the deadline for developing the energy and desalination technology to coincide with the SpaceX manned Mars mission.
(There is also prudent reasoning here as well. What was it that Armstrong said when he put his first foot on the moon? “One small step for man. One giant step for Mankind.” American imagination and courage failed within years of this exploit. What they called “future shock” set in. In order to avoid that –the burden and credit for great exploits needs to placed on Jesus.)
Nor do I think that we would be met with unwilling ears in the Trump administration which is already moving to scale back federal support for abortion. The new CIA director is not Moslem. He is Christian.
Mike Pompeo. an evangelical Christian, has been quoted as saying “Jesus Christ Is the Only Solution for Our World”.
I did this 7 minute video last year to inspire entrepreneurs and to create a new earth based on the new Green Earth Policy. Without going into details on technology or theology–it shows how the vision works. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRYPRsXbYbgn
I attended this conference back in March. The press release for the proposal came out several weeks ago. But I’ve sat on the PR because I’ve wanted to give the matter more thought.
A comment voiced by Americans at the workshop was that the US desalination research community is aware that current research strongly suggests that +-5 years from now the cost of desalination will drop dramtically. However, the US desalination industry –as of March– is not generally aware of what’s happening in basic research.
For this reason, I think it would be better if US funding for this project came from private rather than public sources. (There is a caveat which I mention below.) One candidate would be a US company that is positioned to impliment desalination research discoveries on a large scale. For the US that company would be GE.
Perhaps the man to approach to fund the basic research here is Philip M. Rolchigo.
Consider this bio from the WaterReUse Association Web Site
Philip M. Rolchigo, Ph. D. of GE Water was elected to the WateReuse Foundation Board of Directors during a May 16 Board meeting in Phoenix, AZ. Dr. Rolchigo has worked in research and development since 1988 and now serves as Water Technologies’ Business Program Manager in GE’s Global Research Center. Wade Miller, Executive Director of the Foundation, noted that “Dr. Rolchigo will bring a couple of important dimensions to the Foundation Board. First, GE’s Global Research Center is out on the ‘cutting edge’ of advanced treatment technologies; this knowledge will help the Board to fund projects that are truly ‘value added propositions.’ Second, Dr. Rolchigo has been involved with the Joint Water Reuse & Desalination Task Force (JWR&DTF) activities over the past two years and therefore understands what the Foundation and the Task Force are trying to achieve in desalination. We look forward to having Phil serve on the Board.”
There is a caveat that I would make to this: That is, if water desalination were moved from the business level to the political level. For example, there would, imho, be a political benefit to a joint statement made by the US President and the Prime Minister of Israel to the effect that the two countries planned to work together collapse the cost of water desalination by a factor of 10 in the next 10 years–and thereby make it economically possible to turn the world’s deserts green — and double the size of the habitable planet.
I think that this would have the same effect as Reagan’s Star Wars Speech. That speech changed the future because it changed the bad guy’s expectations about the future.
Former Prime Minister Shimon Peres has been actively pushing for Israel to get involved with nanotechology as a way to reduce costs for things such as desalination. Senator Domenici of New Mexico has been championing desalination research in the USA. But neither the Kadima Party or the Republican Party leadership currently recognize the profound impact on world affairs that cheap desalinised water would have–and how close that reality is. Someone might want to get leadership up to speed on this.
– 1 –
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Bob Rosenbaum
for Water Purification
Collaborative effort targets most promising areas for water treatment
TEL AVIV, Israel – 10 July 2006 – Water researchers from leading institutions in Israel and the U.S. have targeted four cutting-edge projects for collaborative research between the two countries.
Their selection is one outcome of a bi-national workshop held in Washington DC in mid-March, organized by the U.S. and Israeli national nanotechnology initiatives, and theCenter of Advanced Materials for Purification of Water with Systems (WaterCAMPWS) at the University of Illinois.
Prof. Rafi Semiat, Director of the Grand Water Research Institute at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology and a workshop organizer, said that while the group will promote all 12 nanotech-based projects that were outlined at the workshop, special focus is being given to four projects that can provide extraordinary benefits for water purification, and that have the potential to be applied commercially within the next five years.
“Both countries see the target projects not only as very exciting, potential breakthroughs, but also as applied research that can get funded and get commercialized quickly,”
The target projects focus on distinct nanotechnology-based solutions that were outlined at the bi-national workshop: membranes and membrane processes, biofouling and disinfection, contaminants removal, and environmental monitoring and sensors.
The four targeted projects are:
Development of new, porous polymer-based ultra-filtration membranes with special coatings, that exhibit higher flux and higher resistance to contamination as well as robust molecular sieving abilities. The project will create and test selfassembling membranes with very stable transport channels that reduce biofouling and may also be capable of self-cleaning.
Development of coatings with antimicrobial capabilities that can minimize biological attachment and biofilm formation that can be applied to current Researchers in Israel and US Select Top Four Nanotech Projects for Water Purification generation membranes that are used for drinking water, wastewater and desalination.
Study of mixed metal oxide nanostructured materials for the destruction of biological toxins in surface water and groundwater, using photocatalysis and oxidation. The project will provide data for optimizing the use of these materials in various environments.
Development of whole-cell microbial biosensors to detect minute metabolite excretions from newly-forming biofilms. The project will examine the mechanisms of biological attachment to surfaces, identify its biochemical signals, and develop nanoscale sensors that can be applied to membrane surfaces, enabling optimized maintenance for water purification membranes and significant extension of membrane lifetimes.
Rich Sustich, Industrial and Governmental Development Manager for the WaterCAMPWS and a workshop organizer, said that there is special excitement over the proposed biosensor project, which may result in new tools and methods for water systems operation and reduction of long-term maintenance costs.
“Today’s water infrastructure is run on a one-size-fits-all concept.” Sustich noted. “Systems are assembled from standard components, and maintenance relies more on manufacturer’s recommendations than on a direct understanding of what’s really happening during treatment. This works, but it’s very wasteful.”
Adding biosensing devices throughout the water treatment system will provide direct awareness and interaction with the system in real time. The proposed biosensors can eventually lead beyond passive sensing to the development of ‘smart’ membranes that react biologically to changes in the system’s environment, and perhaps even prevent biofilm and toxics formation without the need for manual intervention.
These treatment concepts mimic those already used successfully in medicine: developing biological-based sensors that can distinguish between healthy and unhealthy cells and enable drug delivery only to the unhealthy cells.
Workshop participants agreed that such biosensing mechanisms could be applied within 5 to 10 years, given the needed development resources. All of the March workshop’s target projects use nanotechnology to move water treatment from today’s broad ‘shotgun’ approach to more focused and discrete treatments. “We’re developing water systems that are capable of identifying and addressing contaminants at the molecular level,” Sustich said. “The things that are not toxic and don’t need to be removed won’t be removed. Smart systems that remove only the harmful contaminants will be much more efficient and sustainable.”
Water purification is among the most challenging health, social and technological issues facing the world today. Israel and the U.S., acknowledged leaders in water treatment and water systems management, are seeking to find collaborative ways to use evolving nanotechnology research as platforms for new water treatment solutions, and to help reduce the costs of maintaining water and wastewater infrastructures.
This first joint workshop hosted nearly 50 participants, among them 20 leading water researchers (equally representing Israel and the U.S.) from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Sandia National Laboratories, Technion Israel Institute, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), Yale University, and other institutions.
Among the attendees at the workshop were Dr. Mike Roco, Senior Advisor for Nanotechnology at the NSF, Dr. Celia Merzbacher, Assistant Director for Technology at the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Rafael Harpaz, Minister counselor of Public Affairs at the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC.
Workshop sponsors are seeking approximately $600,000 to support costs of binational collaboration on all 12 projects, with funding to be matched equally between Israeli and U.S. sources. Additional workshops are also planned.
Technical information and funding details on all projects are available upon request.
– ### –
About the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI)
The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) is a federal U.S. R&D program established to coordinate the multi-agency efforts in nanoscale science, engineering, and technology. The NNI is managed within the framework of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), a Presidential Cabinet-level council by which the President coordinates science, space, and technology policies across the Federal Government. Twenty-three federal U.S. agencies participate in the Initiative, including the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). More information can be found at: http://www.nano.gov/
About the Israel National Nanotechnology Initiative (INNI)
The INNI is a shared initiative of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities and Israel’s Ministry of Trade and Industry and responsible for setting national goals and priorities for advancing nanotechnology in Israel. A key task of the INNI is to promote fruitful collaboration between Israeli and global nanotechnology stakeholders, particularly for projects that lead to continuing success in academia and industry. Promoting Israeli nanotechnologies for used in water purification is a primary goal for the INNI. More information can be found at: http://www.nanoisrael.org/
About the UIUC WaterCAMPWS
The Center for Advanced Materials for the Purification of Water with Systems (WaterCAMPWS) is a science and technology center of the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) located at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The WaterCAMPWS brings together the knowledge and experience of water researchers from ten leading universities and institutions from around the U.S. Its primary mission is to develop revolutionary new materials and systems for safely and
economically purifying water for human use, while simultaneously developing the diverse human resources needed to exploit the research advances and the knowledge base created. More information can be found at:
The article below doesn’t mention the applicability of Nano Lubes to current generation semi permiable membranes–but the thought does cross one’s mind that since Nano Lubes reduce friction on the nanoscale up to 100 times with tiny electrical vibrations …. to keep parts from wearing out — perhaps Nano Lubes might use less electricity than current generation pumps used to force salt water through semi permiable membranes; ie rather than force the water through the membrane– you give the membrane a jolt of electricity and the water slips through at room temperature and pressure. Curiously, electricity has been used recently to create super catlysts by a process called electro-flocculation for desalination purposes in Israel. Scientists there say the process reduces treatment costs by up to 33%. Electro-flocculation involves a very different process that clumps together particulates — but it does go to show a bit more about what electricity can do–and what the savings might be. See what electricity might do for current generation semi permiable membranes below. (Click here to see the article at MIT Technolgy Review)
Nano Lube Could Make Possible Ultra-Dense Memory
A new way to reduce friction at the nanoscale could enable the commercialization of nano mechanical devices, including ones for data storage.
By Kevin Bullis
Researchers have helped to smooth the way for memory chips that are 10 to 100 times denser than today’s devices, by developing a way to cut down on friction at the nanoscale. The method could have far-reaching implications for both micro- and nano-electromechanical systems (MEMS and NEMS), which are used for storage and other applications in communications and computing.
Liquid lubricants do not work at the nano scale; as a result, tiny mechanical devices can wear out too fast to be practical. Now physicists at the University of Basel in Switzerland have developed a dry “lubrication” method that uses tiny vibrations to keep parts from wearing out.
The method, described in the current issue of Science, could be particularly useful for a new class of memory devices, pioneered by IBM with its Millipede technology, which uses thousands of atomic force microscope tips to physically “write” bits to a surface by making divots in a polymer substrate and later reading them. The “nano lube” could also find uses with tiny rotating mirrors that might serve as optical routers in communications and mechanical switches, replacing transistors in computer processors, so cutting power consumption.
Devices based on NEMS and MEMS are some of the most promising new nanotechnologies. Yet the commercialization of applications such as Millipede — which could store well over 25 DVDs in an area the size of a postage stamp — has been held up in part by wear caused by friction. Indeed, friction is a particular problem in micro- or nanodevices, where contacts between surfaces are tiny points that can do a lot of damage.
“Coming down to nanoscale devices, this contact area gets smaller and smaller, so you have less surface where you can dissipate heat,” says Anisoara Socoliuc, a physicist at the University of Basel and co-author of the Science article. “This leads to wear. It’s very easy to break or damage the material at this small scale.”
In their experiments, the Swiss researchers moved an atomic force microscope tip made of silicon across a test material of sodium chloride or potassium bromide. Ordinarily, the ultra-sharp tip would travel in a “stick-and-slip” fashion, as friction repeatedly builds up until the tip suddenly breaks free. (The same physical mechanism accounts for squeaky door hinges.) The researchers solved the sticky-tip problem by oscillating the tips using changing voltages. The vibrations, which are so small that the tip stays in continuous contact with the material, keep energy from building up and being suddenly released. As a result, friction decreases 100-fold.
Several other nano “lubrication” methods have been tried, including slowing down the movement of mechanical parts to a crawl; but these have been impractical — many devices, for example, need to move at relatively high speeds. In an earlier study, the authors of the current work also showed that carefully decreasing the amount of pressure between two surfaces could decrease friction; but this proved difficult to control.
The new method, which promises to be much more practical, solves a key part of the wear problems that reduces the reliability of Millipede-type memory chips, says Georgia Tech mechanical engineering professor William King, who worked on IBM’s Millipede system and is now scientific advisor for a startup company, Nanochip, in Freemont, CA, that’s developing a similar memory based on MEMS and arrays of atomic force microscopy tips. King notes, however, that wear from other mechanisms, such as chemical changes in the material over time, is still a problem.
Robert Garpick, professor of engineering physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, notes that further research needs to be done before this method can be used in actual MEMS and NEMS, but that it’s an important study. “What devices could this enable? It’s up to the imagination, ultimately. A lot remains to be done, but it really is a remarkable result,” he says.
Copyright Technology Review 2006.
Scientists at Argonne National Labs are modeling for electrical properties by adding defects in carbon nanotubes. The researchers are interested in improving the materials for thermoelectric power generation. However, this methodology looks like it could be readily adopted for desal research by adjusting the charge on a carbon nanotube to screen for Na or Cl–as was done for Hydrogen production purposes by collaborating researchers from UT and the Research Triangle Institute in the Research Triangle NC. (The UT/NC researchers were not working with carbon nanotubes.)
The Argonne modeling methodology for impurities below looks so thorough that–in lieu of a formalized national labs interlibrary borrowing system for models–off–the shelf… it might be an appropriate and helpful time saver for researchers at San Dia to arrange to borrow/barter/rent/buy the model below.
Published July 05, 2006
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|Carbon nanotube building blocks open up possibilities for advanced electronics|
Nanotube designs include (from top) “bumpy,” “zipper” and “multiple zipper.”
A new method to systematically modify the structure of single-walled carbon nanotubes could expand their electronic properties and open the path to nano-electronics.
|Carbon cylinders a few billionths of a meter in diameter and a few microns long, these nanotubes are one of the strongest structures known and have unique electrical and thermal properties.
This promising method to add defects to carbon nanotube walls was developed by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, who are interested in improving the materials for thermoelectric power generation, the use of heat differences to generate electricity. Thermoelectric conversion is the principle behind thermocouples, thermal diodes and solid-state refrigerators.
“If you change the electronic structure,” said Argonne chemist Larry Curtiss, “by adding defects in an ordered way, theoretically you can make more efficient thermoelectric materials. So we could produce electricity more efficiently from solar, nuclear or any thermal power generation.” Curtiss is group leader of the Molecular Materials Group in Argonne’s Materials Science Division.
One dimer at a time
Creating defects by adding molecules to nanotubes is challenging because of their extremely small size. And researchers are seeking a controlled, reproducible method. So the Argonne team, which includes Curtiss, Michael Sternberg, Peter Zapol, Dieter Gruen, Gary Kedziora, Paul Redfern and David Horner, used computer simulation tools to learn how to add a single carbon dimer – a molecule of two bonded carbons – to a single-walled carbon nanotube.
The single-walled nanotubes – believed to be the best candidates for next step of miniaturizing modern electronics – resemble a long tube of chain-link fence made of hexagons. The Argonne team simulated a variety of approaches to attach the carbon dimer to the nanotube. They found the easiest and strongest method is by horizontally inserting a carbon dimer into two hexagonal bonds, creating two adjacent pentagons and heptagons (seven-sided structures) in the chain link.
One dimer, two dimer…
After they understood how to add one dimer, the researchers began to add dimers in patterns.
“The interesting thing was going into the multiple patterns,” Curtiss said. “We started building up patterns using the dimers like building blocks and adding them to the tubes.”
The researchers found a number of interesting modifications:
— The “bumpy” tube has carbon dimers added symmetrically around the circumference of the tube to create a stable bulge.
“The structures we simulated,” said physicist Zapol, “have new and unexpected features. They modify the electronic properties in the nanotubes, and that will be useful in future electronic applications.”
Guided by the simulations, Argonne materials scientists, led by Gruen, with expertise in carbon nanomaterials are creating materials for testing.
“But we think that some of these structures exist already,” said Curtiss. Zapol’s literature review revealed that some researchers have found these structures, but they did not know what they were.
The zipper structure particularly appeals to Argonne researchers because the atomic spacings in the openings are just the right size to bond nanotubes to Ultrananocrystalline™ diamond and combine the properties of both.
Ultrananocrystalline diamond is a novel form of nanocarbon developed by Argonne that has many of the properties of diamond – the hardest known material on earth – and can be deposited on a variety of surfaces. Unlike diamond, its properties can be optimized depending on the application.
Researchers plan to use the carbon nanotubes as a scaffolding to attach other molecules and study their functions. They will also connect the tubes into arrays and study the effects.
Source: by Evelyn Brown, Argonne National Laboratory
This news is brought to you by PhysOrg.com
30th June 2006
So where wil computers be in five to ten years? According to the Seattle Times:
Monday, June 26, 2006
WASHINGTON — The federal government is pushing computer scientists and engineers to step up the speed and capacity of America’s supercomputers.
Officials say much faster performance is needed to handle a looming tidal wave of scientific, technical and military data.
“Within the next five to 10 years, computers 1,000 times faster than today’s computers will become available. These advances herald a new era in scientific computing,” according to Raymond Orbach, undersecretary for science at the Department of Energy.
Interestingly, the DOE is interested in issues that are very close to those of the desalination community.
The Department of Energy also is offering $70 million in grants for teams of computer scientists and engineers to develop petascale software and data-management tools.
“The scientific problems are there to be solved, and petascale computers are on the horizon,” said Walter Polansky, senior technical adviser in the department’s Office of Advanced Scientific Computing.
For example, the Energy Department wants ultrafast computers to determine the 3-D structure of molecules that let drugs pass through cell walls, knowledge that can be vital against cancer.
This sort of knowledge would be vital to desalination research as well.
A panel of international experts has identified 14 major scientific challenges that, if solved, could lead to breakthroughs in improving global health. The challenges include developing vaccines that do not require refrigeration, preventing insects from transmitting disease, and growing healthy crops in harsh climates. To achieve these breakthroughs, the foundation supports the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative.
Think the Gates Foundation might be interested in funding computer modeling that would lead to cheap/fast/durable desalination membranes & catalysts–that would in turn lead to cheap desalinised water that would help famers growing healthy crops in harsh climates? I do.
Gates Foundation funding might be used to make it simple for desalination researchers without access to the SuperComputers at the National Labs to fund their modeling requirements. Two models for doing this would be 1.) for the scientists to go to the Gates Foundation directly or 2.)for an organization like WaterReuse.org to petition the Gates Foundation for a block grant to cover scientific and admistrative costs for a modeling program that would match scientists with modelers and their supercomputers.
Just a thought.
Often a research organization will have the right questions but limited time, budget or brain power with which to solve the problem. Wouldn’t it be nice to say “Ok we have this problem and we will pay this much for a solution. A number of web sites have grown up in the last couple years that bring together Research organizations and problem solvers like InnoCentive, YourEncore, & NineSigma. There’s a lot of seriously interesting ways this can be used to accelerate water desal research. Consider the article below in Wired Magazine.
The Rise of Crowdsourcing
By Jeff Howe
3. The Tinkerer
The future of corporate R&D can be found above Kelly’s Auto Body on Shanty Bay Road in Barrie, Ontario. This is where Ed Melcarek, 57, keeps his “weekend crash pad,” a one-bedroom apartment littered with amplifiers, a guitar, electrical transducers, two desktop computers, a trumpet, half of a pontoon boat, and enough electric gizmos to stock a RadioShack. On most Saturdays, Melcarek comes in, pours himself a St. Remy, lights a Player cigarette, and attacks problems that have stumped some of the best corporate scientists at Fortune 100 companies.
Not everyone in the crowd wants to make silly videos. Some have the kind of scientific talent and expertise that corporate America is now finding a way to tap. In the process, forward-thinking companies are changing the face of R&D. Exit the white lab coats; enter Melcarek – one of over 90,000 “solvers” who make up the network of scientists on InnoCentive, the research world’s version of iStockphoto.
Pharmaceutical maker Eli Lilly funded InnoCentive’s launch in 2001 as a way to connect with brainpower outside the company – people who could help develop drugs and speed them to market. From the outset, InnoCentive threw open the doors to other firms eager to access the network’s trove of ad hoc experts. Companies like Boeing, DuPont, and Procter & Gamble now post their most ornery scientific problems on InnoCentive’s Web site; anyone on InnoCentive’s network can take a shot at cracking them.
The companies – or seekers, in InnoCentive parlance – pay solvers anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 per solution. (They also pay InnoCentive a fee to participate.) Jill Panetta, InnoCentive’s chief scientific officer, says more than 30 percent of the problems posted on the site have been cracked, “which is 30 percent more than would have been solved using a traditional, in-house approach.”
The solvers are not who you might expect. Many are hobbyists working from their proverbial garage, like the University of Dallas undergrad who came up with a chemical to use inart restoration, or the Cary, North Carolina, patent lawyer who devised a novel way to mix large batches of chemical compounds.
This shouldn’t be surprising, notes Karim Lakhani, a lecturer in technology and innovation at MIT, who has studied InnoCentive. “The strength of a network like InnoCentive’s is exactly the diversity of intellectual background,” he says. Lakhani and his three coauthors surveyed 166 problems posted to InnoCentive from 26 different firms. “We actually found the odds of a solver’s success increased in fields in which they had no formal expertise,” Lakhani says. He has put his finger on a central tenet of network theory, what pioneering sociologist Mark Granovetter describes as “the strength of weak ties.” The most efficient networks are those that link to the broadest range of information, knowledge, and experience.
Which helps explain how Melcarek solved a problem that stumped the in-house researchers at Colgate-Palmolive. The giant packaged goods company needed a way to inject fluoride powder into a toothpaste tube without it dispersing into the surrounding air. Melcarek knew he had a solution by the time he’d finished reading the challenge: Impart an electric charge to the powder while grounding the tube. The positively charged fluoride particles would be attracted to the tube without any significant dispersion.
“It was really a very simple solution,” says Melcarek. Why hadn’t Colgate thought of it? “They’re probably test tube guys without any training in physics.” Melcarek earned $25,000 for his efforts. Paying Colgate-Palmolive’s R&D staff to produce the same solution could have cost several times that amount – if they even solved it at all. Melcarek says he was elated to win. “These are rocket-science challenges,” he says. “It really reinforced my confidence in what I can do.”
Melcarek, who favors thick sweaters and a floppy fishing hat, has charted an unconventional course through the sciences. He spent four years earning his master’s degree at the world-class particle accelerator in Vancouver, British Columbia, but decided against pursuing a PhD. “I had an offer from the private sector,” he says, then pauses. “I really needed the money.” A succession of “unsatisfying” engineering jobs followed, none of which fully exploited Melcarek’s scientific training or his need to tinker. “I’m not at my best in a 9-to-5 environment,” he says. Working sporadically, he has designed products like heating vents and industrial spray-painting robots. Not every quick and curious intellect can land a plum research post at a university or privately funded lab. Some must make HVAC systems.
For Melcarek, InnoCentive has been a ticket out of this scientific backwater. For the past three years, he has logged onto the network’s Web site a few times a week to look at new problems, called challenges. They are categorized as either chemistry or biology problems. Melcarek has formal training in neither discipline, but he quickly realized this didn’t hinder him when it came to chemistry. “I saw that a lot of the chemistry challenges could be solved using electromechanical processes I was familiar with from particle physics,” he says. “If I don’t know what to do after 30 minutes of brainstorming, I give up.” Besides the fluoride injection challenge, Melcarek also successfully came up with a method for purifying silicone-based solvents. That challenge paid $10,000. Other Melcarek solutions have been close runners-up, and he currently has two more up for consideration. “Not bad for a few weeks’ work,” he says with a chuckle.
It’s also not a bad deal for the companies that can turn to the crowd to help curb the rising cost of corporate research. “Everyone I talk to is facing a similar issue in regards to R&D,” says Larry Huston, Procter & Gamble’s vice president of innovation and knowledge. “Every year research budgets increase at a faster rate than sales. The current R&D model is broken.”
Huston has presided over a remarkable about-face at P&G, a company whose corporate culture was once so insular it became known as “the Kremlin on the Ohio.” By 2000, the company’s research costs were climbing, while sales remained flat. The stock price fell by more than half, and Huston led an effort to reinvent the way the company came up with new products. Rather than cut P&G’s sizable in-house R&D department (which currently employs 9,000 people), he decided to change the way they worked.
|The Rise of Crowdsourcing|
|5 Rules of the New Labor Pool|
|Look Who’s Crowdsourcing|
Seeing that the company’s most successful products were a result of collaboration between different divisions, Huston figured that even more cross-pollination would be a good thing. Meanwhile, P&G had set a goal of increasing the number of innovations acquired from outside its walls from 15 percent to 50 percent. Six years later, critical components of more than 35 percent of the company’s initiatives were generated outside P&G. As a result, Huston says, R&D productivity is up 60 percent, and the stock has returned to five-year highs. “It has changed how we define the organ-ization,” he says. “We have 9,000 people on our R&D staff and up to 1.5 million researchers working through our external networks. The line between the two is hard to draw.”P&G is one of InnoCentive’s earliest and best customers, but the company works with other crowdsourcing networks as well. YourEncore, for example, allows companies to find and hire retired scientists for one-off assignments. NineSigma is an online marketplace for innovations, matching seeker companies with solvers in a marketplace similar to InnoCentive. “People mistake this for outsourcing, which it most definitely is not,” Huston says. “Outsourcing is when I hire someone to perform a service and they do it and that’s the end of the relationship. That’s not much different from the way employment has worked throughout the ages. We’re talking about bringing people in from outside and involving them in this broadly creative, collaborative process. That’s a whole new paradigm.”