From the Archives: Inventor Superhero Ellen Ochoa

  When we think about our favorite Insights topics, we can’t pass up Inventor Superhero Ellen Ochoa. This incredible inventor was the first Hispanic woman in space, and she ultimately spent more than 700 hours on missions outside of our planet. Her last mission was in 2001, and she now serves as the director of the Johnson Space Center. And much like IV President and COO Adriane Brown and many other accomplished women in STEM fields, she encourages students to believe in themselves and follow their dreams.  

Ellen Ochoa: NASA astronaut, mission specialist. Photo by NASA [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Inventor Superhero: Ellen Ochoa, Ph.D. (1958-present), director of the Johnson Space Center

Superpowers: Optics: Ochoa is a co-inventor on three patents that help scientists refine images that come from space — she invented an optical inspection system, an optical object recognition method, and a method for noise removal in images. Ochoa can also fly planes and play classical flute.

Eureka! Moment: First Hispanic woman in the world to go to space. Ochoa served on a nine-day mission aboard the Discovery shuttle in 1993 to study the Earth’s ozone layer.

Cool Gadget: Robotic Arm: On several flights, Ochoa operated a robot arm that helped transfer clothing, computers, and medical equipment from the shuttle to the International Space Station.

Superhero Lair: NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas

Nemesis: School bullies who think girls can’t succeed in science, engineering, technology, and math (STEM)

Who’s your favorite inventor superhero? Let us know who we should profile next at @IVinvents.


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Back to School with STEM and Mentorship

The end of summer means that students of all ages are getting their room and course assignments, maybe choosing an outfit for the first day of school and anticipating all a new year brings. It also offers another important opportunity to remember how critical mentoring students and helping them to pursue their STEM education-related goals are to helping ensure a strong and innovative future workforce.

Adriane Brown speaks with students in Washington, D.C., about pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM).

The Indiana University School of Education recently conducted a survey designed to identify how, when, and why students choose STEM fields, and to learn what keeps them interested. The researchers spoke to nearly 8,000 participants from both STEM and non-STEM disciplines. And they concluded that the majority of respondents first expressed their interest in STEM fields before sixth grade.

These findings demonstrate the important role that mentorship can play in helping students maintain their expressed interests through high school and into college. Intellectual Ventures has always emphasized the importance of mentorship, and we support programs and meet with students in the community to help build the next generation of STEM leaders. As our President and COO, Adriane Brown, often says:

As you climb the ladder, reach down and pull someone up with you.

For our part, we’re involved in programs like CodeDay and Seattle’s Pacific Science Center Discovery Corps program, which seeks to inspire lifelong interest in science, math and technology among its members.

A little while ago, Project Eureka! talked to two Discovery Corps members about what helped them most as they considered pursuing STEM-related goals. Their tips for fellow STEM enthusiasts heading back to school included:

  1. Searching and exploring are the best ways to find your passions and interests.
  2. Delve into your own interest and learn to love it. See if there are ways that you can mix what you like to do with something in the STEM field.
  3. Learn how and where to turn your interest into a career. Seek out companies that emphasize your interest; look for programs or internships in the same field. There is something out there for every STEM area.
  4. Find something you think is really wrong with the world and fix it.
  5. Don’t ever let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.

We encourage all students to pursue their dreams, to think creatively about what they enjoy doing and to foster their innovative spirit. And for all of the mentors out there, keep on doing your great work – for many students, your influence can make all of the difference in the world.

Want inspiration from real inventors and scientists who are achieving their dreams? Check out our Behind the Breakthrough series to learn more about their stories.


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News You Can Use: Saving Lives on Earth, Sustaining Life in Space

We can’t say it enough: we love inventing, and everything about it. We love the inventors, who, despite diverse backgrounds share the goal of making something new. And, of course, we love the inventions themselves, especially the revolutionary ones. But where do inventors get their innovative spirit? This month’s News You Can Use explores the process of innovation, even beyond our horizons.

Lifesaving inventor pens informative piece about disruptive innovation

Syringes make medicinal delivery quick and effective, and Marc Koska knows this better than anyone. The creator of the single-use syringe, an invention that has saved millions of lives, Mr. Koska offered great advice in his essay in The Telegraph about the process of innovation and invention. Among his best recommendations are to “start with the problem, not the solution” and use simplicity as an advantage. After all, complex problems don’t necessarily need to be solved with complex solutions.

Researchers believe “mundane” time is a necessary aspect of innovation

How do you handle mundane tasks? This might be a question you’ve had to answer during an interview. Well, according to The New York Times, mundane tasks actually improve the innovation process. A group of researchers examined Kickstarter campaigns and found that when people had more free time, the numbers of projects sharply increased. Yes, some of these people likely maximized their abundant time to optimize for Eureka! moments. But the researchers concluded that more free time means more execution-oriented tasks, which are critical to turning an idea into something more.

Astronauts eat homegrown “space salad”

Years in the making, astronauts on the International Space Station recently ate food grown in space for the very first time, a huge step toward sustaining life in space on manned missions to Mars and beyond. This didn’t come easy. In fact, the process of growing the red romaine lettuce required multiple innovative ideas to succeed. Syringes had to be used to water the soil, fans had to constantly circulate the air, and powerful artificial lights were turned on and off in as close to an Earth-like schedule as possible. The astronauts ate the crop with a nice seasoning of olive oil and balsamic vinegar after harvesting. But apparently the lettuce tasted great on its own, too.

Want to learn more about the invention process? Check out our Behind the Breakthrough series to hear first-hand from IV’s top inventors and innovators.  

News You Can Use

Intellectual Ventures regularly shares roundups of invention and intellectual property news. To read the other posts in this series, see below:

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Inventor Superhero: Dr. Forrest Bird

It’s been some time since we last profiled a new inventor superhero. But in the wake of an extraordinary man’s passing, this superhero deserves all of the recognition he can get. His credits include improving the capabilities of American fighter pilots in World War II and inventing breathing devices that have saved countless people facing medical issues affecting their hearts and lungs, including his first wife. Dr. Bird was also an avid aviator, having earned his pilot’s certification by the age of 16. In what can only be described as an incredible historical coincidence, he even flew alongside the Hindenburg just hours before it tragically burst into flames in 1937.

Photo courtesy of Jesse Hart,


Inventor Superhero: Dr. Forrest Bird (1921-2015), aviator, inventor, engineer, and founder of Percussionaire Corporation.

Superpowers: Dr. Bird’s combination of piloting skills and engineering knowhow helped to improve high-altitude breathing capabilities during World War II, resulting in American pilots flying as high as 37,000 feet; 9,000 higher than before. Most of us would call it a day after that remarkable accomplishment, but not this superhero. He took what he learned in the war and created unique mechanical ventilators that replaced the iron lung, saved countless lives, and aided thousands with respiratory struggles.  

Cool Gadget: Baby Bird, the nickname for the first low-cost, mass-produced pediatric respirator, significantly reduced mortality rates of infants with respiratory problems.

Eureka! Moment: After taking medicine courses at several schools, originally just to examine high-altitude aviation and breathing problems, he began looking at ways to improve breathing for everyone, which led to his first prototype made of – believe it or not – strawberry shortcake tins and a doorknob.

Superhero Lair: In the middle of beautiful mountains and forests lies Bird’s 300-acre compound on Lake Pend Oreille in Idaho. Included at the site are the headquarters of Percussionaire Corporation, a farm for employees of the business, an airfield and hangars for numerous vintage airplanes, seaplanes, and other transportation types, and the Bird Aviation Museum and Invention Center.

Want us to profile your favorite inventor superhero? Tweet us @IVinvents. And be sure to check out the inventor superheroes we’ve covered in the past, like Nikola Tesla and Ellen Ochoa.

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From the Archives: Alternate Endings – Inventor Close Ups

Here on Insights, we talk frequently about the process of invention. But sometimes, the most impactful inventions weren’t pursued at all – they happened by accident. The inventions featured in this post from the archives may surprise you. Learn more about the people and stories behind these products, and see how many you use every day.

Giving credit to inventors reminds us that it’s people behind the scenes who help drive big box office smashes in today’s consumer-driven world. These people have pioneering spirits and what’s-possible attitudes that keeps them thinking, striving, and solving; especially when their original hypotheses are disproven and new inventions rise from constructive failure.

Percy Spencer: invented the microwave oven in 1945 when he noticed a melted candy bar while working on building magnetrons for radar sets

Spencer Silver: invented the pressure sensitive adhesive behind Post-its in 1968 instead of a super strong aerospace adhesive

Ruth Graves Wakefield: invented the chocolate chip cookie in 1930 when she replaced the standard ingredient in a batch of chocolate butter drop do cookies

Dr. Roy Plunkett: invented Teflon, one of the slipperiest substances known to man, while experimenting on potential alternative refrigerants

Dr. Harry Coover: invented Super Glue in 1942, and rediscovered it in 1951 when its quick bonding properties stuck in the market

We believe that inventors are real-life superheroes, on par with the action hero characters played by Jeff Bridges in Tron and Morgan Freeman in the Batman series. Check out these Movie Monday blockbusters as we continue to celebrate National Inventors Month. Alright, Mr. DeMille, they’re ready for their close ups.

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Fighting Malaria on Multiple Fronts

Despite available treatments, hundreds of thousands of people die each year from malaria. Though there are many factors at play, lack of access to affordable, accurate, and timely diagnostic tests play an undeniable role in the rate of mortality from this curable disease.

Fighting Malaria on Multiple Fronts

If you’ve been following IV Lab and Global Good, you likely know that we have been working on new disease diagnostics technologies for some time. In fact, Dr. David Bell noted that improving microscopy is one key area where IV Lab and Global Good are making a difference in the fight against malaria in his recent Behind the Breakthrough interview.

What is microscopy and how is it used to diagnose malaria?

Microscopic examination of Giemsa-stained blood slides – or microscopy – has generally been considered the gold standard in malaria diagnosis, and the World Health Organization’s 2014 World Malaria Report estimates that 197 million patients were tested with microscopy in 2013.

One challenge with using microscopy to diagnose malaria is training and supporting proficient microscopy technicians. The accuracy of microscopy tests relies heavily on the knowledge, level of skill, and judgment of the malaria technician, particularly in cases of early infection that might require greater sensitivity and skill.

How are Global Good and IV Lab addressing this challenge?

In short, we’re approaching the problem from multiple angles by:

Developing the Malaria Microscopy E-Learning Tool:

The Malaria Microscopy E-Learning Tool, a digital image bank and software designed to simulate microscopy slide scanning on a computer screen, will enable microscopy technicians to access images and improve their skills in malaria detection.

IV Lab and Global Good have chosen a software platform developed by PathXL to produce and deliver content for the Malaria Microscopy E-Learning Tool. PathXL’s e-learning platform is used by universities and training schools across the globe. You can learn more about the E-Learning Tool in the IV Lab’s original post here.

Working with experts to write a microscopy methods manual for malaria research:

Global Good’s Dr. David Bell worked together with a group of experts convened by the UNICEF/UNDP/World Bank/WHO Special Program for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR) to develop a set of procedures for microscopy recommended for use in malaria research studies. 

The procedures proposed by this group in the Methods Manual: Microscopy for the detection, identification and quantification of malaria parasites on stained thick and thin blood films in research settings are intended to help researchers working in drug or vaccine efficacy trials or in diagnostics to deliver consistent and reliable data and to promote standardization in reports. To learn more about this manual, check out IV Lab’s initial post.

Building a low-cost, standalone optical diagnostic microscope, the Autoscope:

One of the diagnostic platforms scientists and engineers at IV Lab are developing is an automated optical diagnostic microscope. The Autoscope aims to be a low-cost, portable, fast, automated microscope that can detect stained parasites using image-processing algorithms. The only human intervention needed is placing a slide in the machine.

Recently, three Autoscope prototypes were tested in the field in Thailand to gather data and user feedback. Read more about the Autoscope here.

Together Global Good and IV Lab aim to develop and adapt diagnostic platforms to address a range of diseases in low resource settings. The teams hope to provide primary-care level health facilities, workers, and the communities they serve the tools needed to diagnosis infectious diseases that are simple to use and affordable. 

If you’d like to stay up-to-date on IV Lab’s work on malaria and other infectious disease diagnostics, be sure to follow its Inspire blog.


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From the Archives: Inventor Superhero James Dyson

 Throughout August, we're highlighting some of our favorite content from the archives. This week, we’re featuring Inventor Superhero James Dyson, the epitome of a venturer. His innovative solutions – the ones that resulted in highly effective bagless, cyclone vacuums – have transformed his name into a coveted brand. Read on to learn about his eureka! moment, nemeses, and more.

Our latest inventor superhero embodies what it is to be a venturer. Unhappy with the status-quo, he spent five years and developed more than 5,000 prototypes in his quest to create the world’s first bagless vacuum. Through his company Dyson, he’s been innovating ever since on everything from cyclone technology to bladeless fans to digital motors. 

But perhaps more impressive is his commitment to inspiring young people to pursue invention. “Because right now,” he says, “it’s these bright young minds that offer a glimpse at the engineering stars of the future.”

Inventor Superhero: Sir James Dyson, (1947-present), British inventor, industrial designer and founder of the Dyson company

Superpowers: Dyson has enabled people around the world to take their vacuuming to the next level. And because he’s also a former student at the Royal College of Art, his inventions look pretty slick, too. In fact, his early prototype was manufactured in bright pink and won the 1991 International Design Fair prize in Japan.

Eureka! Moment: Disappointed with the performance of his own vacuum and its continually clogging dust bag and resulting lack of suction, Dyson came up with the idea of a bagless machine that uses cyclonic separation to create a vacuum that won’t lose suction as it picks up dirt.

Cool Gadget: The “G-Force” cleaner, based on his 1986 patent 4,593,429, was the first bagless, dual cyclone vacuum. In the years since, the G-Force has been the technological inspiration for a series of subsequent versions, including the Dyson Ball — a vacuum cleaner that rides on a ball.

Superhero Lair: The Dyson headquarters in England

Nemesis: Copycats. In 2002, Dyson was awarded £4M in damages from Hoover for infringing the patent on Dyson’s dual cyclone cleaner.

Who’s your favorite inventor superhero? Let us know who we should profile next at @IVinvents.

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From Ireland to Bellevue: 2015 BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition Winner Visits IV

The potential of young inventors to change our world is truly unlimited. Take for example, Elle Loughran, a teenage inventor from Ireland. Even by exceptionally bright young inventor standards, Elle stands out. Her work on developing a biosensor that could help to diagnose certain types of brain tumors won her the IV Insightful Invention Award at the 2015 BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition

Elle Loughran, the 2015 winner of IV's Insightful Invention Award at the 2015 BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition.  


And Elle’s award didn’t just come with a nice plaque. She also received a trip to the United States to visit IV and see the best we have to offer in the Pacific Northwest. For part of her four-day trip, Elle toured IV’s facilities, which included an up-close view of the photonic fence and passive vaccine storage device, Arktek, and spent some time with members of our staff and executive team, including Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications and Marketing Mona Locke and President and COO Adriane Brown. She also made time to meet with executives at Intel and explore a few Seattle landmarks.

Want to see a behind-the-scenes look of Elle’s trip? Check out her blog, which includes a detailed recap of virtually every stop on her journey.

At IV, we are committed to mentoring the next generation of inventors, scientists, and innovators. Our support for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education motivated our sponsorship of the BY Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition and its mission to cultivate and nurture the future of scientists and engineers.

We can’t thank Elle enough for making such a long and jam-packed visit half-way around the world. We enjoyed hosting her at our Bellevue headquarters and as it turns out, her first visit to the United States. Here’s to hoping we’ll see Elle more often on this side of the pond and to encouraging a bright future for the young inventors and scientists who, like Elle, are making our world a better place.

For more on Elle’s and other young scientist’s projects, check out coverage of the 2015 BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition in the Silicon Republic. You can also read more on other young inventors we admire in “News You Can Use: Young Inventors Transforming Society.”

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Behind the Breakthrough: Anna Bershteyn

This week’s behind the breakthrough profiles Anna Bershteyn, a senior research manager at IV’s Institute for Disease Modeling (IDM), a division of Global Good. Anna was born in Kiev, Ukraine and immigrated to the United States in 1989. She attended MIT, where she completed her bachelor’s and PhD in materials science and engineering before joining IDM in 2010.

Here are some of her reflections:

On what led her to IV:

“I joined the IDM after getting to know Philip Eckhoff, the Institute’s principle investigator. He and I held the same graduate fellowship from the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation. At the time, IDM was small and focused on malaria modeling. Philip was looking to grow some tendrils in other fields—namely polio, HIV, and TB—and I was really interested in expanding from vaccine development into broader global health topics. My start date was a week after my thesis defense at MIT. I just couldn’t wait – I was really excited to get started.”

On her role at IV:

“My role with IDM is focused on research. The kind of research we do uses agent-based detail HIV models to answer questions about policy – things like the impact of increasing retention on HIV treatment, or trying to get more people who have been lost to care back into care. Things that incredibly enough, we still don’t know, such as: what are the most important ways that we need to improve the health system? I spend most of my time as a researcher exploring different hypotheses and analyzing data from different angles.”

On being a mentor:

“In addition to my research, I’ve also become a manager/supervisor/mentor on the HIV and TB teams, helping to guide different research questions. I look back on the great mentors I have had throughout my scientific career for ideas about how to support and motivate team members.”

On what inspires her work:

Three things. First, it’s the excitement of knowing that we’re really breaking new ground. Second, it’s our technical capacity. We are at this unique interface with software development, policy, and basic research. I think we have the opportunity to move things forward in a new direction. Third, and most of all, it’s my colleagues at IDM. We have an incredible team with an amazing culture. I’ve learned so much from my co-workers. There is a sense of feeling honored to get to do this sort of work, and it makes this place collaborative rather than competitive, even while pushing hard and feeling great pride in our work.”

Follow our Behind the Breakthrough series by subscribing to our IV Insights blog, and check out more quotes from inventors and scientists on our Facebook and LinkedIn pages

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From the Archives: Inventor Superhero Nikola Tesla

Sometimes we get a little nostalgic for our favorite posts in the archives. Over the course of the Insights blog we’ve profiled some incredible inventors, scientists and thinkers, and mused about big ideas in the intellectual property landscape. Throughout the next few months, we’ll be re-featuring some of our most popular posts. And, who better to kick off the series than Nikola Tesla? Read on to learn about his childhood hero, nemesis, and more:

Inventors are doers, but first they are thinkers. And while some invent gadgets, others invent systems. This IV inventor superhero thought long and hard about how to enhance the world we live in, and his inventions and system innovations are engrained in just about everything we use in modern life.

Inventor Superhero: Nikola Tesla (1856-1943)

Superpowers: Electrical currents, mathematics, radar technology, and energy conversion

Eureka! Moment: Tesla began his career in the 1800s in Budapest as an electrical engineer for a telephone company. He was fascinated with electricity, and one day while strolling through a park with a friend, he had a flash of genius that set a course for his life’s work: Tesla unraveled the solution to the rotating magnetic field. He stopped along his walk, grabbed a stick, and drew a diagram in the sand that explained the principles of the induction motor.

Superhero Lair: Wardenclyffe  — Tesla’s red brick laboratory on Long Island, NY, where he worked to establish a wireless telegraphy plant. Today, Wardenclyffe is Tesla’s only remaining lab building. In 2012, the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, in collaboration with internet cartoonist Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal) launched a campaign to purchase and restore the property.

Cool Gadget/Systems: Tesla invented the alternating current electrical system, which is still widely used around the world. He also developed the Tesla coil, a system of generators, and he harnessed the power of Niagara Falls by creating the first-ever hydroelectric power plant.

Childhood Hero: While we can’t confirm that Tesla’s hero was his mother, we know he gained his inventiveness and interest in electrical technology from her. Djuka Mandic was known for her creations and modifications of household appliances.

Nemesis: Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla consistently butted heads over direct and alternating current. Even though Tesla came to the United Stated to study alongside Edison, they eventually split paths due to their conflicting, insistent beliefs on the most efficient type of current. In the end, Tesla was the unsung victor.

Who’s your favorite inventor superhero? Let us know who we should profile next @IVinvents.

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