Super Bowl Science: Innovations That Shaped Modern Football

Last year’s Super Bowl was witnessed by well over 100 million people around the world. It’s the most celebrated sporting event in the U.S. Those of us at Intellectual Ventures’ headquarters in Washington will argue that football is best celebrated here in Seattle, with our amazing Seahawks and in the company of the twelves. And while we’ll be watching Sunday’s game for the raw talent of Wilson, Sherman, and Lynch, there are a few innovations that we #SeahawksScience geeks will be watching for, too. Take a look at some of the technologies, sciences, and discoveries that have helped evolve the sport through the years.

Super Bowl Science: Innovations That Shaped Modern Football

Instant Replay

Instant replay technology was first introduced to football during a monumental game between Army and Navy in 1963. 29-year-old Tony Verna, who was directing the game broadcast that day, used his washer/dryer-sized Ampex tape machine to let viewers re-watch the most important plays.

Protective Gear

The first NFL football helmet was a soft leather style. Over the decades, football helmets transitioned into a more advanced model, taking both safety and comfort into account. Today, some helmets are designed to detect concussions and help deter other injuries.

The Football

There’s a reason DeflateGate has been at the center of conversation in the sports world this year. A football’s PSI can be a determinant of winning and losing. Footballs with less pressure make it easier to throw—and easier to catch. To explain the science behind football PSI, GeekWire visited a Renton, Wash. sports equipment manufacturer.

The Huddle

Not a technology, but an important discovery that’s become a part of every team strategy. The formation of football players around each other to plan the upcoming play was introduced by Paul Hubbard, the quarterback for Gallaudet in the 1890s. The school was a university for the deaf, and therefore Hubbard pulled his players tightly into a circle so they could sign without the other team seeing. Keep this factoid in your back pocket for your next sports trivia night.


Football helped progress rehydration methods. Former University of Florida Gators coach Ray Graves pulled together a team of researchers to invent Gatorade®, a drink that replenished electrolytes so players wouldn’t collapse under the heat of “The Swamp”—the nickname for Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.


The modern football goal post is called the slingshot goal post, and was invented by Joel Rottman as an improvement to the old-style H-goal post. What was Rottman’s inspiration for the new design? A dinner fork.  

Today, wearable technologies and other athletic inventions have the potential to change the way the game is played even further. Do you think modern inventions are improving the sport or drawing it too far from its classic roots? Let us know at @IVinvents. While you’re throwing back Skittles® and causing little Beastquakes this Sunday, pay attention to the new inventions used both on and off the field.

Go Hawks!

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The Myth Buster

Intellectual Ventures (IV) founder and CEO, Nathan Myhrvold, is the subject of a trailblazing profile in the latest edition of Intelligent Life, the bi-monthly culture and lifestyle magazine from The Economist. Over several months, in three different countries and many an espresso, Nathan and reporter, Alex Renton, cover everything from his childhood definition of wealth to the rewards of being a generalist today.

Here are just a few of our favorite passages:

"Myhrvold is not well-known outside geekdom and the arcane world of intellectual property. But he may be more useful than most great thinkers.  When did Stephen Hawking or Pope Francis actually do something that might improve your daily life? Myhrvold, who had a post-doctoral fellowship under Hawking, achieves that quite frequently."

"His stock in trade in using rigorous analysis to dismember a sacred cow. ‘We do it like that because that’s how it’s done’ is a red rag to him, whether uttered by the dinosaurs when Microsoft was rising to challenge them in the 1980s, by the energy firms that resist the possibility of safe, cheap nuclear power, by development economists who can’t analyse statistics or by a chef trying to justify a hallowed (but scientifically empty) cooking gambit. For Myhrvold, myth-busting has been a life’s work, the means to a fortune and a bundle of fun."

"What’s he like as a boss, I ask Pablos Holman? He grins. ‘I love Nathan. He has a great sense of humor, a great attitude, he's really, really smart. Even in what you know about. I know a lot about computers, but I have trouble keeping up with him. I’ve seen him do that to biologists, paleontologists, to oceanographers … With him, you see what’s possible when somebody doesn’t super-specialise. It’s one of the things that’s really sad about the scientific community, that you make yourself a scientist by becoming the world’s greatest expert in the smallest possible field. Nathan not only became somebody who could work deeply across different fields of science, but also appreciate the experts. And he can round them up, people who would never consider talking to someone else about their problems, and get them to cooperate.’ So what’s bad about him? What would you change? ‘I’d probably work on his wardrobe a bit.’"

For the full story, read on here.

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Brain Tumors Beware

Diagnosing a brain tumor sounds like a daunting task better left to the professionals. But for sixteen-year-old scientist Elle Loughran, it simply sounds like an opportunity for invention.

Brain Tumors Beware

Photo: Intellectual Ventures' Steve Winter presents young scientist Elle Loughran with the IV Insightful Invention Award at the 2015 BTYSTE

Elle developed a graphene-based biosensor to measure attractin, a protein biomarker for certain types of brain tumors, and presented her invention earlier this month at this year’s BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition (BTYSTE) in Dublin.

“If you have elevated levels of the attractin protein in your cerebrospinal fluid, it indicates a glioma which is a type of brain tumour,” she explained. “So I wanted to make a sensor that can detect attractin.”

Elle's invention earned her the IV Insightful Invention Award for demonstrated insight in identifying a meaningful problem and proposing an innovative, technically viable solution.

This was the second year in a row that Intellectual Ventures sponsored a special prize at BTYSTE, which brings together future scientists, engineers, and inventors from across Ireland. Last year, we honored two brothers who created an invention that determines how icy roads are by looking at the reflectors on road markers.

As a longtime supporter of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, we were pleased to help the BTYSTE in its mission to cultivate and nurture the talent of our future scientists and engineers. Several of our Dublin-based employees were at the event, introducing hundreds of students to inventive career possibilities by showcasing some of the new technologies IV and our partners are developing.

Congratulations to Elle and all of the BTYSTE finalists. With more than 1,100 students participating in this year’s exhibition alone, we're confident that the future will be full of bright, motivated inventors.

For more on Elle’s and other young scientist’s projects, check out coverage of the exhibition in the Silicon Republic

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News You Can Use

What makes an organization unusually successful? What’s the real difference between innovation and invention? What can executives learn about innovation through a historical lens? This week’s News You Can Use highlights stories about ways companies leverage the answers to these questions for success. 

News You Can Use

Sustaining Innovation
Why are some organizations able to innovate over and over again while others can’t get off the ground? Harvard Business Review moves past initial findings that debunk the “myth of the lone genius” into the precise nature of organizing for innovation, the capabilities that drive discovery, and how to lead innovation successfully. The study finds three traits common among successful ventures: creative abrasion, creative agility, and creative resolution. An organization’s ability to find the right mix could mean the difference between spinning your wheels and achieving lift-off.

Innovation vs. Invention
What’s the difference? According to Bill Walker from Wired's Innovation Insights community, subtle nuances in definition can change a conversation. Innovation introduces the concept of use of an idea or method. Invention is about creating something new. “Very few inventions are, by themselves, successful innovations," says Walker. "Most innovations are evolutionary changes to existing processes, uses, or functions, which are made better by one (or several) contributing inventions.” For executives, transforming an idea from invention to innovation might not be a huge change, an enormous investment, or a massive restructuring. It could be as simple as adding some social concepts and new ways of managing and measuring success into the existing structure. 

Laws of Innovation
What can the C-suite learn about innovation through the context of history? Writing for Forbes, John Greathouse recounts lessons learned by Steven Johnson’s PBS series and accompanying book, “How We Got to Now.” He gives an example of innovation spawning unintended uses:

Numerous innovations were ultimately utilized in ways difficult to predict. Example: Edison thought the phonograph would electronically deliver mail as spoken “letters” while Bell intended for the phone to play remote, live music.

By understanding and acting on the laws of innovation, such as "innovations spawn unintended uses," "innovations are networks of ideas," and "innovations evolve from industrial to consumer uses," business success can appear effortless. 

@IVinvents shares IP and tech innovation news every week. Follow along and let us know what you’ve been reading, too. 

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IV in the Community: January

New year, new opportunities to tell our unique story. Over the next few months, Intellectual Ventures employees from across the company will be out in the community talking about everything from what the West can learn from Asia’s innovation boom to the longer-term consequences of Ebola.  

IV in the Community: January

Philip Eckhoff, principal investigator of the Institute for Disease Modeling at IV, will be participating in a panel discussion on January 22 hosted by the World Affairs Council in Seattle entitled “Ebola in 2015 – and beyond.” Specifically, Philip plans to address the outlook for the virus in 2015 as well as longer-term consequences that could further endanger public health, education, and economic development in West Africa.

IV co-founder and CTO, Edward Jung, will be speaking on January 27 at EmTech in Singapore, the annual global emerging technologies conference hosted by MIT Technology Review, on the global benefits of Asia’s invention boom. He’ll share perspectives on how the West can learn from Asian innovators about finding solutions to complex global problems and how to deploy them.

Phyllis Turner-Brim, vice president, chief IP counsel at IV, will attend the "Law and Innovation” symposium hosted by the University of Chicago Law School's Federalist Society Student Chapter. On the agenda: a variety of topics including patent law and innovation.

On the lighter side, IV Lab engineer Tola Marts will be at the one place every geek wants to be on a Monday evening – Nerd Nite Seattle. On January 19, he’ll teach you the all-important skill of defining artistic mediocrity, using John Cusack as a case study. From his presentation abstract: “We will examine the career of John Cusack, from the brilliant highs of ‘Better Off Dead’ (a movie Cusack hates) to the lows of that one where he’s Hitler’s art dealer. Then we will see if we can come up with a measure that accurately compacts the myriad fateful decisions of a complicated artist into one single snarky, mean little graph.”

For more information about IV speaking engagements or to inquire about a speaker for your event, please contact  

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IV’s Resident Futurist, Pablos Holman, Tells Popular Science Readers to Break Stuff

Pablos Holman, an inventor, hacker, and resident futurist at Intellectual Ventures, gets his ideas from breaking things into little pieces. In a Q-and-A with Popular Science, he explains why more people should spend time taking computers and other gadgets apart—and invent new uses for their technologies. 

IV’s Resident Futurist, Pablos Holman, Tells Popular Science Readers to Break Stuff

“You don’t find a lot of people whose business card says inventor or hacker,” he said. “They’re not legitimate career choices, and I just think that’s really sad.” Holman says he’s always thought it was important to use computers to solve big problems, and more people should be focused on finding new applications for computer technology help address the world’s greatest challenges.

Find out what else Holman has to say about hacking and its implications for cyber security. Then learn how he turned the art of breaking things into a career.

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News You Can Use

Company executives can have an enormous amount of influence on an economy’s collective good—from economic progress and industry collaboration to individual entrepreneurship. Whether influence comes from instilling innovation as a cornerstone of growth, or offering timely insight on how to keep businesses relevant in a fast-changing climate, this week’s News You Can Use underscores the C-suite’s power in driving economic opportunity.

News You Can Use

Kicking Innovation Into High Gear

It’s no secret that entrepreneurs and companies need each other to sustain growth and stay relevant. By forming strategic and financial alliances with individuals or small firms that are developing creative business models, executives can keep their businesses on the cutting-edge of innovation.  In turn, entrepreneurs mitigate the risk of failure and are able to monetize their ideas to help deliver creative solutions. Forbes digs deeper into inventive business models that benefit both large corporations and independent entrepreneurs.

Keeping America’s Innovative Economy Strong

Innovation has historically been the backbone of a strong American economy. And the country’s continued success in the global economy is shaped by education and innovation—and the integration of the latter into the former. The Huffington Post argues that the U.S. needs to devote more resources to innovation in school curricula. And C-suite leadership can help turn this initiative into reality.

Intellectual Ventures President and COO Adriane Brown often says that “the workforce of the future is going to revolve around STEM.” She’s been a steadfast supporter of engaging America’s youth—especially girls—in more science, technology, engineering, and math programming, so they will be well equipped to contribute to future economic progress. And she encourages other leaders to do the same. 

Secrets to Innovation

Wired explores how to be an “agent of transformation” within a company. In the article, Daniel Burrus, CEO of Burrus Research, outlines the three successful principles that drive his work in the C-suite: starting with certainty, anticipating change, and transforming an approach to doing business.

How does your company approach innovation? Let us know on LinkedIn.

@IVinvents shares IP and tech innovation news every week. Follow along, and let us know what you’ve been reading, too. 

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Inventor Superhero: Dean Kamen

While some superheroes have a specific strength, others have the power of versatility. Inventor Dean Kamen’s ability to invent new technologies in a vast array of fields makes him one of the more resourceful inventors in our Inventor Superhero series. 

Inventor Superhero: Dean Kamen

Like many famous inventors, Kamen struggled with rigidity and lack of creativity in school, and spent his time outside of the classroom tinkering in his parents’ basement. From the young age of five, Kamen had already invented a tool to help him make his bed without having to run to both sides. And by the time he was 16, he was making a living developing light and sound systems for bands and museums around New York.

When Kamen isn’t working on his own inventions, he’s helping kids with theirs. As founder of FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), he’s helped high school students across the U.S. learn to use science and technology in creative ways.

Inventor Superhero: Dean Kamen, (1951-present), American entrepreneur, inventor, and founder of DEKA Research and Development and FIRST Robotics

Superpowers: Inventing one thing is impactful, but inspiring thousands of other inventions is a serious superpower. When Kamen isn’t whipping up his next technology, he’s helping kids learn to create something new.

Eureka! Moment: In the 1970s while attending Worchester Polytechnic Institute, Kamen and his brother – a medical student at the time – were discussing patient care needs. Patients who needed around-the-clock treatment had to travel to clinic to be administered medicine. Could they come up with an invention to help give time and freedom back to these patients? The brothers invented an automatic infusion pump – a device to automatically adminster medication when needed. Kamen dropped out of school and spent the next five years developing this product and creating his first medical device company, AutoSyringe. His wearable infusion pump is used in medical specialties from cheomotherapy to endocrinology.

Cool Gadgets: With more than 440 U.S. patents to his name, Kamen has developed and improved countless medical devices. He also revolutionized daily transportation by creating the I-Bot Wheelchair, which led him to the creation of the Segway® Human Transporter. And he’s invented everything from a fully functioning robotic arm to the Slingshot – an efficient water purifier for use in the developing world.

Superhero Lair: DEKA Research and Development Laboratories.

Be a Superhero Fan: Do you want to join Kamen in helping kids across the country have fun with science and technology, and maybe become inventor superheroes themselves one day? Join Intellectual Ventures in mentoring FIRST teams

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Echodyne Spins Out from Intellectual Ventures

If you’ve been following IV’s spin-out story, you know that one area of focus for our company has been around developing and commercializing metamaterials, which are artificial materials that can manipulate electromagnetic radiation in a variety of useful ways.

Our first endeavor was spinning out Kymeta in 2012, a company that develops Metamaterials Surface Antenna Technology (MSA-T), to enable satellite connected broadband Internet on the go, anywhere in the world. This was followed in 2013 by our spin-out Evolv, which commercializes metamaterials-based imaging and detection technology for use in airports and other high-risk facilities. On the heels of Evolv, we also established the Metamaterials Commercialization Center (MCC), which is a team of engineers, physicists, and scientists dedicated to furthering the development and commercial readiness of our metamaterials inventions.

To date, the MCC has been primarily focused on exploring nearer-term applications of metamaterials technology to address an identifiable customer need. I’m very proud of all that we’ve accomplished in just a few short years and am pleased to announce that today, we’ve added another chapter to our story with the launch of IV’s third metamaterials spin-out and fourth overall, Echodyne. 

Led by co-founders Eben Frankenberg (CEO) and Tom Driscoll (CTO), two former IV colleagues, Echodyne will bring metamaterials-based radar systems to market. The company recently closed an initial $15 million funding round led by Bill Gates and Madrona Venture Group, with participation from Vulcan Capital, Lux Capital, The Kresge Foundation, and others.

We see tremendous promise around metamaterials and in addition to the three companies we’ve already spun-out, are continuing to work closely with our partners at Duke University, University of California at San Diego, and Imperial College to explore further the great potential of this technology. Please continue to follow us on this very exciting journey.

You can learn more about IV’s spin-outs here.

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A Cool Way to Combat Ebola

Healthcare professionals who are treating Ebola patients protect themselves from virus exposure by wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), including double-layer gloves, coveralls, and boots. Imagine what that must feel like to those who are on the front lines of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa’s hot temperatures. Changing equipment offers brief relief, but it’s a lengthy process and potentially puts workers at risk of infection each time their skin is exposed.

A Cool Way to Combat Ebola

Ebola virions (PLos Biology, doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0030403.g001)

In an effort to make PPEs more comfortable to wear for longer periods of time – and to keep the risk of exposure at bay – Intellectual Ventures’ Global Good program is partnering with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to identify and evaluate rapidly deployable personal microclimate cooling solutions that can be worn underneath existing PPE.

A wide range of approaches will be needed to ultimately put the Ebola outbreak in check – from vaccines to education to new healthcare technologies. Learn more about efforts to combat the Ebola outbreak from:

The World Health Organization 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The White House

Grand Challenges


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Casey Tegreene

Casey Tegreene

Casey Tegreene is the executive vice president and chief patent counsel for the Invention Science Fund (ISF) at Intellectual Ventures.





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