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Founder and CEO Nathan Myhrvold Upends Asteroid Assumptions in New Study

In a new study published in the journal Icarus, Nathan argues that astronomers don’t have as good a handle on the size and other physical characteristics of asteroids as they previously thought. 

Founder and CEO Nathan Myhrvold Upends Asteroid Assumptions in New Study

In particular, Nathan identifies major flaws in the methods used by the NASA-funded NEOWISE project—a mission that analyzed data on some 164,000 asteroids observed by the WISE space telescope—and demonstrates that many of the asteroid diameter estimates and other results published by the project are irreproducible and significantly less accurate than claimed. The new study is the first independent analysis to critically examine those results and the scientific methods used by the NEOWISE project, which was led by a team at the Caltech Jet Propulsion Lab.

The Icarus article is an update of work Nathan published in preprint form in May 2016 on arXiv.org, and his latest findings have drawn coverage in the New York Times. Learn more background on the research and why it matters on Medium and in Retraction Watch, or read the full study.

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Meet IV: Helen Hsieh

Lateral flow tests, when used to diagnose the presence of infectious diseases, are relatively inexpensive and elegantly simple to use. They involve applying a biological sample—of blood or urine, for instance—to one end of a test strip. As the sample flows up the strip, it encounters various reagents, which are designed to produce a chemical reaction when they come in contact with a particular target, such as a protein, bacteria, parasite or virus. If your target is present, you’ll get a clear visual signal, an “aha” moment, like seeing a bar appear on a pregnancy test moments after peeing on a stick. 

Meet IV: Helen Hsieh

The key to this technology—and what makes it especially crucial for the developing world—is all the research that goes into it behind the scenes to make it so portable, affordable and easy to use at the point of execution. That’s precisely the legwork that a number of scientists at the IV Lab are putting in “under the hood,” says Helen Hsieh, a research scientist who works in the Flow-based Diagnostics group (also known as FlowDx).

Helen came to Intellectual Ventures about three years ago after spending more than 20 years with Becton, Dickinson and Company (BD), a medical technology company that manufactures and sells medical devices, instrument systems and reagents. Today, she’s part of a team focused largely on increasing the sensitivity of diagnostic tests for malaria and tuberculosis. The more sensitive the tool, the sooner you can pick up the disease before it has further multiplied. That can make a huge difference in treatment, and also make you more certain you aren’t missing any patients who carry the pathogen at lower levels (Helen was lead author on a paper about some of this LFA research published last year).

In addition to its impact on global health, Helen’s role features two of her other favorite things—lots of creative troubleshooting and “cool shiny instruments”—and feeds her lifelong belief that science should be fun!   

Cross-Country Career Shift
Helen, who split her childhood between Pennsylvania and Alabama, studied chemistry as an undergrad at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and then again for her Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina (UNC). She developed expertise in both biological and physical chemistry along the way, and that experience, as Helen was wrapping up her doctoral program, helped her land the position with BD at its research center in Research Triangle Park, just down the road from UNC.

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Intellectual Ventures Develops the First Offline Virtual Malaria Microscopy Training Course

The World Health Organization-approved eLearning tool can be used regardless of Internet access.

Intellectual Ventures Develops the First Offline Virtual Malaria Microscopy Training Course

There are more than 200 million cases of malaria worldwide every year, with roughly half a million deaths. While some populations are equipped to confront the malaria threat, many countries still face significant barriers in both early detection and healthcare provider training and support. Intellectual Ventures’ Global Good Fund is using science and technology to invent new solutions to reduce barriers to global health, especially in the fight against malaria.

To address a need for accurate malaria diagnosis, we are pleased to be working with Amref Health Africa, the largest Africa-based nonprofit organization delivering health services to over 30 countries on the continent, to provide a new accessible tool for laboratory professionals and health workers: the Worldwide E-Learning Course on Malaria Microscopy (WELCOMM).

As microscopy remains a major method for identifying malaria parasites in patients’ blood, continuing education is essential for microscopists to improve their skills to achieve accurate results and to prepare for WHO certification exams. Classes are traditionally delivered through in-person re-training courses, which can be difficult to access for health workers from remote, rural areas and technicians in busy laboratories.

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Meet IV: Phillip Wallace

“For some reason, I’ve had an interest in politics since a very young age, even when I was a teenager,” says Phillip Wallace, who joined Intellectual Ventures (IV) as government relations manager in spring 2015. “When I was in high school, I was always in student government, I was my class president every year. I always enjoyed the student elections.”

Meet IV: Phillip Wallace

Phillip grew up in Baton Rouge, La., about an hour north of New Orleans, and he went on to study political science and economics at Southern University in his hometown. “Political science was a very natural choice for me,” he says. “I wasn’t one of the college students who struggled to find a major, or didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I was interested in the political process.”

The logical next step for Phillip after he graduated was to move to the nerve center of national politics: Washington, D.C. His first job on Capitol Hill was with Senator Mary Landrieu from his home state, and then he decided to further his education by pursuing a master’s degree in public policy at George Washington University. “You don’t get much more political than being blocks away from the U.S. State Department and the White House,” he says, “having professors who’ve had distinguished careers in government and politics.”

His graduate school experience steered him to a position in the government affairs office with Hyundai Motor America, a subsidiary of Hyundai Motor Company. Phillip enjoyed his role with Hyundai and stayed there for 2.5 years, but then he saw an opportunity with IV in 2015. “I knew that after working for such a large company,” he says, “I wanted to take advantage of a company that had greater flexibility, and those tend to be smaller companies, companies with 1,000 people or less. Their day-to-day business is innovation, they know how to be quick and adapt.”

That’s why the D.C.-based government relations office at IV felt like a great fit for him, and he now says—with his trademark sincerity—that his work has become “so natural that a lot of times what I do now doesn’t really feel like work.” 

At the Office
Today, Phillip’s role as senior manager of government relations takes many shapes. “I spend probably about 40 percent of my time doing what I consider retail lobbying: examining issues that are important to the business, whether it’s tax reform and tax policies, or whether we’re talking about patent reform, or looking at bills that impact the patent system.”

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Meet IV: Megan Bettilyon

“Every single day, I am exposed to new information, new technology, new ideas, new ways of just thinking about a particular topic,” says Megan Bettilyon, director of inventive government solutions and Global Good special projects. “There is not a day that goes by that I don’t learn something new.”

Meet IV: Megan Bettilyon

Nothing about Megan’s position is predictable, and that’s exactly how she likes it. She thrives on the diversity of her roles, from serving as field manager for the Arktek™ before its commercialization; to working with partners at the United Nations; to traveling to D.C. to collaborate with our government relations team on Capitol Hill; to managing IV’s programs that involve cooperation with the U.S. government; to other projects relating to climate change, nutrition and global health. “I get paid to learn,” she says. “I get paid to investigate and understand how these new technologies and these potential partners could have an immense impact on the work we’re doing in low-resources nations. And that is extremely exciting for me.”

Beyond the excitement of her work, though, is a more fundamental connection with the culture at Intellectual Ventures (IV). There’s a palpable energy, Megan says, that drives the people and research here—a shared personality and mission, a sense of being surrounded by kindred, curious, creative spirits. “I’ve been a ‘nerd’ my entire life,” she says, “and I am damn proud of it. When I was a kid, it was a hard name to be called, but I have embraced it. And at the Lab, there are just as many people who are just as nerdy or geeky as I am about the things they love. Everybody there has a passion, something they truly jive on, and that is cool.”

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Nathan Myhrvold on AI and Why There’s Nothing to Fear

Is artificial intelligence (AI) a boon or bane for humanity? 

Technologists have been grappling with this question for years, and invariably, the conversation returns to fear that these changes will displace millions of workers, lead to widespread hardship and throw society into economic crisis.

Our founder and CEO Nathan Myhrvold recently delivered the World Traders 2018 Tacitus Lecture to discuss this fear, which he calls the “innovation menace.” In his lecture, he recounts how history has illustrated that the “doom and gloom” conversation around new technologies is, and always has been, wrong—and why we needn't fear that progress in AI will outstrip society's ability to ensure that the technology improves our lives.

View the video below to watch Nathan deliver the London World Traders Guild annual Tacitus Lecture, in which distinguished speakers deliver remarks on a concern affecting world trade.

IV CEO and founder Nathan Myhrvold delivers his Tacitus Lecture at the City of London's Guildhall on February 22, 2018. Photograph copyright Jake Sugden.

Nathan delivers his Tacitus Lecture at the City of London's Guildhall on February 22, 2018. Photographs copyright Jake Sugden.

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Meet IV: Guillaume Chabot-Couture

Seven years ago, Guillaume Chabot-Couture had just finished his Ph.D. at Stanford University. A native of Quebec City in Canada, Guillaume had studied physics as an undergrad at Université Laval in his hometown, and then high-temperature superconductors for his recently completed dissertation. His next move, though, was fairly wide open.   

Meet IV: Guillaume Chabot-Couture

Hiking the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island

“I was considering many of the usual routes at the end of a graduate degree,” he says: “working for a national laboratory, trying to get a postdoc in academia, or joining a large company. I was also looking at other areas, patent law and different ways to apply this knowledge.”

Through a bit of happenstance, says Guillaume, a friend reached out to him about a possible opportunity with Intellectual Ventures and its Epidemiological Modeling (EMOD) project, led by Philip Welkhoff. At the time, it was a small group of people inventing ways to build more realistic simulations of disease transmission, with a focus on improving and saving lives in developing countries using quantitative analysis. “When I had the opportunity to interview for this job, which combined analytics and mathematical modeling with a field that was largely unknown to me—communicable diseases, global health—I think my curiosity kicked in in a big way. I thought it sounded really interesting and wanted to learn more about it.”

Guillaume ended up getting the job, and EMOD has since grown about tenfold into what is now the Institute for Disease Modeling (IDM). As a senior research manager, he leads multiple teams working on building models of disease transmission and incidence, as well as other tools to help accelerate the eradication of infectious diseases in the developing world. “I think they took a chance hiring me, someone who didn’t know much about disease modeling, but it’s the best job I’ve ever had,” he says.

A New Field
IV often draws from varied, even unlikely, backgrounds to build research teams, as each new perspective can lead to unexpected insights and results. For Guillaume, after spending most of his student life studying physics, that meant trading superconductors for disease modeling. And that transition, while not exactly obvious, still very much triggered the same curiosity and potential for far-reaching impact that has always driven his work.

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Accelerating Impact

ISF Incubator calls for entrepreneurs who want to bring next-generation tech to big markets

Accelerating Impact

For years, Intellectual Ventures (IV) has built business on the back of new technologies: To date we’ve created 15 companies, which have raised more than $700 million in funding and created more than 400 jobs. With each company, we’ve learned how to work faster and smarter, and now we are accelerating this model by launching the Invention Science Fund (ISF) Incubator—a team within IV that matches outside entrepreneurs with our inventions and resources to disrupt big markets like health, telecommunications and transportation.

It’s a different approach to the incubator model. We have the inventions, the resources, and the know-how, and now we need passionate entrepreneurs who can execute.

Access to our state-of-the-art lab, our patent portfolio, and our network of engineers, mentors and investors means we can provide the tools for success—whether it’s a piece of special equipment from our mechanical engineering and instrument fabrication shop to create a prototype, or assistance setting up a business and navigating the legal landscape. We believe the best way to bring cutting-edge science and new technology to market is to put it in the hands of the most capable, passionate people, and provide the necessary resources to build a business.

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Top Nine Invention Stories from March

March marks Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day celebrations around the world. At Intellectual Ventures, we commend the contributions of women to the field of invention, and work to support more women and girls to pursue careers in STEM. As IV President and COO Adriane Brown has aptly said: “I believe that collaboration of great, diverse minds is how we will solve our world’s toughest challenges and create breakthrough technologies.” 

Top Nine Invention Stories from March

Check out our top invention stories from March, from IV and spinout news to inventors and the grand challenges they’re addressing. 

IV in the news

For International Women’s Day, IV’s Adriane Brown spoke at a panel with other top female leaders in Seattle who are championing women empowerment and making an impact in their communities. Discover why the event was a GeekWire top calendar pick and listen to the full panel discussion here

IV spinout Evolv raised $18 million for high-tech body scanners that don’t cause long lines at security.

IV’s Global Good and Biopromic joined forces to confront tuberculosis – a disease that takes 1.8 million lives each year. Their plan: a low-cost, accessible diagnostic test for communities in low-income settings.

As part of Global Good, scientists at IV’s Institute for Disease Modeling are on the frontlines of the battle against malaria. Hear from one of those scientists in Big Think.

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Failing for Success: Alexander Graham Bell

“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” - Alexander Graham Bell

Failing for Success: Alexander Graham Bell

Bell at the opening of the long-distance line from New York to Chicago in 1892 via Wikimedia Commons.

March marks the quick succession of two important anniversaries in the life of Alexander Graham Bell – his birthday (March 3) and the date he patented his groundbreaking telephone (March 7). And though we think of his invention as one that changed the course of history, success for Bell wasn’t always smooth. But while Bell encountered failure in his long career, it did not stop him from exploring new ideas.

Known as the father of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell’s invention historically changed how people communicated. In fact, Bell’s innovation completely disrupted the norm of communications. When he tried to sell the telephone patent to Western Union in the late-1800s, the company’s president scoffed at the idea, and thought of the telephone as only a toy. Furthermore, Bell’s other 16, non-communications-related patents are a testament to his general interest in inventive ideas across various activities.  

Despite the multitude of invention success, Bell encountered failure as well. Many of his inventions, while ahead of their time, were not as successful as the telephone. Here are a couple of Bell’s invention ideas that did not work out as intended:

Early Metal Detector

This near-success occurred in 1881 after the assassination of then-President James A. Garfield. Bell, his assistant, Sumner Tainter, and mathematician Simon Newcomb developed a device that hummed when close to metal. During initial testing, the device succeeded and found bullets that the men placed under their clothing. However, while searching for the bullet in President Garfield’s body, the detector hummed continually.

Unfortunately, the bedsprings in President Garfield’s bed led to the continuous humming, and the invention was seemingly a complete failure. Nonetheless, Bell is credited with providing the framework for the modern metal detector.

Kite Flight

Later in life, Bell immersed himself in the study of flight. He supported aerospace engineering through the Aerial Experiment Association (AEA), and came up with concepts meant to progress the science of human flight. From 1907 through 1912 Bell primarily experimented with tetrahedral wings, or box-kites. However, many of his concepts could not stay aloft for long periods of time, and the Wright brothers became the first inventors to perfect extended flight.

Nevertheless, architect and artist, Tomás Saraceno, recently used Bell’s idea to create a tetrahedral wing that stays aloft in the air. This concept, according to Saraceno may one day lead to the development of floating solar-powered structures for energy production.

Interested to hear how more inventors throughout history persevered in the face of failure? Check out previous installments of our Failing for Success series, including Henry Ford, Nikola Tesla and The Wright Brothers.

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