I have two quick notes for researchers before I get to the point of this week’s blog–which will be directed to research administrators.

Note 1: As soon as anyone gets a working carbon nanotube membrane — the next question will be how do you scale production of the membrane to commercial cost/volume. One answer might be Nantero.

Nantero, Inc., a nanotechnology company using carbon nanotubes for the development of next-generation semiconductor devices, has resolved all of the major obstacles that had been preventing carbon nanotubes from being used in mass production in semiconductor fabs.

Semi conductors are not semi permiable membranes but likely a lot of the procedures for creating the one will map over onto the other.

Note 2: If you’ll recall, two weeks ago I mentioned that the body’s cells walls might provide a model for desalination membranes.

Still another way biomedical work might provide a model for desalination is in nanospheres used for drug delivery.
Consider Two Press Releases: one from a team consisting of Sandia National Laboratories, the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and the University of Georgia in Athens … and the other — a consortium consisting of Argonne National Laboratory, the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute and The University of Chicago Hospitals.

The San Dia group covers platinum nanospheres and the Argonne Group covers biodegradable nanospheres. These are used for drug delivery in the body. The thought did occur to me that the biodegradable nanospheres–ie… bubbles — could be produced cheaply and charged so as to capture salt and settle out of solution — or be magnatized out of solution.

That’s it.

Well one more. Last week I posted about a British Company that used greenhouses for water desalination to produce high value fruits and vegetables. Another thing those green houses could produce is biocrude/biodiesal from algae. Consider a joint project of the DOE San Dia Labs and LiveFuels Inc. They aim to convert algae-to-oil. They could do it in greenhouses in West Texas with fresh water — and mesquite flavored salt as additional byproducts. Yeehaw.
Now to the point of this week’s post.

How does a research administrator evaluate all the research directions available today so as to appropriate money where it will do the most good? Especially when there are so many options and so much breaking news.

As it happens, until recently, water desalination has been in the relative slow lane of technological development. But other industries have been in the fast lane for some time. Its instructive to look at how they’re coping. Basically, managers in frontline industries are pulling the opinions of frontline people by gettting them to wager with play money on what they think the best option is.

It’s called a prediction market, based on the notion that a marketplace is a better organizer of insight and predictor of the future than individuals are. Once confined to research universities, the idea of markets working within companies has started to seep out into some of the nation’s largest corporations. Companies from Microsoft to Eli Lilly and Hewlett-Packard are bringing the market inside, with workers trading futures contracts on such “commodities” as sales, product success and supplier behavior. The concept: a work force contains vast amounts of untapped, useful information that a market can unlock. “Markets are likely to revolutionize corporate forecasting and decision making,” says Robin Hanson, an economist at George Mason University, in Virginia, who has researched and developed markets. “Strategic decisions, such as mergers, product introductions, regional expansions and changing CEOs, could be effectively delegated to people far down the corporate hierarchy, people not selected by or even known to top management.”

This could also work across the federal lab system so as to give an idea as to what strategies looked most likely to succeed at any given moment based on the information flow.

How would it work?

You show up for work, boot up your computer and log onto your company’s Intranet to make a few trades before getting down to work. You see how your stocks did the day before and then execute a few new orders. You think your company should step up production next month, and you trade on that thought. You sell stock for the production of 20,000 units and buy stock that represents an order for 30,000 instead. All around you, as co-workers arrive at their cubicles, they too flick on their computers and trade. Together, you are buyers and sellers of your company’s future. Through your trades, you determine what is going to happen and then decide how your company should respond.

This could be done for research.

Yahoo! Research, the research and development division of Yahoo!, runs a prediction market called the Tech Buzz game (see http://buzz.research.yahoo.com/bk/index.html).

“It’s a play-money market where people try to predict what technologies people will be searching for,” Pennock said, whether it be an internet browser or an MP3 player. The game evaluates both the power of prediction markets to forecast high-tech trends and a Yahoo! Research system for conducting electronic commerce.

Are there hosted solutions out there that could be tailored to desalination R&D? Yep.

Prediction markets also have spawned some startups, including Inklingmarkets.com and NewsFutures.com. “Inklingmarkets offers a hosted solution where it’s easy for any company to create a private prediction market for internal corporate forecasts and decisions,” Pennock said. “Newsfutures provides software and services for companies to run internal markets, and also will host special challenge markets on their website.”

How did all this begin?

HOW IT BEGAN. One of the earliest prediction markets was the Iowa Electronic Markets, founded in 1988 by the University of Iowa, to guess the winners of presidential elections. In the 1990s, a few companies, including Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), began to apply prediction market theories to corporate events.

And the rest is history as mentioned above.

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  1. […] Finally there’s crowd prediction markets. How does a research administrator best deploy his dollars between projects competing for research dollars? Choosing rightly between known knowns is difficult. In fast paced industries companies use something called prediction markets. I discuss this strategy here. […]

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  2. […] work I’ve posted in the last several months that might follow up on the Livermore work. 1.) 2.) 3.) 4.) 5.) 6.) . This last #7.) discusses how charge could be used for semipermiable […]

    Pingback by More on the LLNL carbon nanotube membranes « Desalination Research And Development — June 24, 2008 @ 9:53 pm

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