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Posts from the Ideas and Inventors category

The Heartbeat of Invention: How Pacemaker Creator Wilson Greatbatch Saved Countless Lives

“Failure is a learning experience, and the guy who has never failed has never done anything” – Wilson Greatbatch 

The Heartbeat of Invention: How Pacemaker Creator Wilson Greatbatch Saved Countless Lives

A lot can happen in a minute. In the world of scientific invention, a minute can be pivotal. A spark can trigger a life-changing idea for an inventor in a minute, and 60 seconds is all it takes for an inventor to make a huge mistake.

In some extraordinary cases, perhaps both phenomena can occur in that same moment in time. This was the case for Dr. Wilson Greatbatch, an inventor who in just a minute, made an error that led to a life-saving invention and forever changed cardiovascular healthcare.

The Mistake that Sparked It All

In 1956, Greatbatch attempted to create a heart rhythm recorder. However, after mistakenly adding an incorrect electronic component, the device produced electronic pulses instead of simply recording the sound of the heartbeat as he had intended. Listening to the pulse of the device, a sound similar to that made by a healthy heart, Greatbatch had his critical “a ha” moment. In that moment, he realized that this device could help an unhealthy heart stay in rhythm by delivering shocks to help the heart muscles to pump and contract blood.

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A Woman of Many Firsts, Marie Curie Embraced the Unknown

By any measure, Marie Curie was one of the most revolutionary scientists in history. In 1903, she became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. She was also the first person to be honored with two Nobel Prizes, and she remains both the only woman to win twice and the only person to win in multiple sciences. 

A Woman of Many Firsts, Marie Curie Embraced the Unknown

By Fotograv. - Generalstabens Litografiska Anstalt Stockholm [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

At IV, we are focused on the road ahead – how to make the future better than the present through new inventions. But as we generate ideas to propel our world forward, it is important to remember those brave pioneers who paved the road that we continue to travel on. Just ahead of what would be her 149th birthday, we honor one of these early trailblazers whose work led to the development of cancer treatments, advanced x-rays and the redefining of established ideas in physics and chemistry.

Widely considered the most important piece of research she conducted, Curie was able to show that the radiation was not the outcome of the interaction of molecules, but came from the atom itself. She used the electrometer, a device for measuring electrical charge, to determine that the activity of uranium compounds only depends on the quantity of the uranium.

In partnership with her husband, Pierre, Curie discovered two elements, polonium and radium. After almost a decade of research, Curie developed methods for the separation of radium from radioactive residues in order to characterize and study its properties, particularly therapeutic properties.  

During World War I, Curie recognized the need for field radiological centers near the front and developed mobile x-ray and radiography units. She helped to equip ambulances with x-ray equipment, which she herself drove to the front lines. It is estimated that over one million wounded soldiers were treated between the mobile units and the 200 radiological units at field hospitals.

Curie’s work helped overturn established ideas in physics and chemistry. The radioactivity of radium contradicted the principle of conservation of energy and forced a reconsideration of the foundation of physics. In addition, her research showed that the radioactivity of radium appeared to successfully attack cancer.

Curie devoted her life to advancing science, dying in 1934 from her long-term exposure to radiation. After her death, Curie became the first woman to be honored with interment in the Pantheon on her own merits. At IV, we look at where we are today in the world of science with overwhelming admiration for Marie Curie and her enduring legacy.

Explore more transformative Nobel Prize winners and the inventing legacy of Alfred Nobel.

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Inventions to Satisfy Your Halloween Sweet Tooth

’Tis the season for haunted houses, spooky masks, ghost stories, goblins and ghouls. But this year, we’re focusing on the sweeter side of the season’s festivities – the Halloween candy on the minds of trick-or-treaters everywhere. And, like most great ideas, early inventions for candy making have evolved over time, constantly inspiring new and complex tasty treats. 

Inventions to Satisfy Your Halloween Sweet Tooth

The Rich Road Forward

We recently marveled over the vast number of industries that 3D printing promises to revolutionize, and as it turns out, the candy industry is among them. 3D printing technology has given chocolatiers and confectioners alike the ability to transform chocolate and candy into works of edible art. In 2014, Xerox patented a method for 3D printing chocolate that controls the chocolate temperature as each layer is gradually added. In collaboration with Hershey’s, 3D Systems has also developed a 3D printer that creates any shape of white, milk or dark chocolate. Watch it in action here.

Not only can candy lovers customize the size and shape of their chocolate, now they can also expose it to high temperatures without it melting. In the past few years, most of the world’s major candy companies have invented and patented methods for making melt-proof chocolate that can remain solid at temperatures as high as 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Nestlé’s filed a 2013 patent for making chocolate heat-tolerant by adding a dietary fiber from citrus, wheat or even peas to stabilize the chocolate at high temperatures.

A Sugary Start

But before 3D printing could change the candy industry, creative inventors needed to develop a host of other candy manufacturing inventions. One significant Industrial Revolution-era development was the revolving steam pan for boiling sugar, which used a combination of steam power and steam heat to free the candy maker from continuously stirring his or her confections. The pan also regulated the temperature with more precision, making it less likely that the sugar would burn.

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Cuba, Metamaterials, Silkworms and More: Twelve Must-Read Stories From October

At the GeekWire Summit 2016, Nathan Myhrvold said, “Every great idea starts off as a spark. We live in a society that has been completely technologically transformed by ideas that worked out.” Our favorite links this month tell stories of inventors and inventions that embody that kind of transformation. 

Cuba, Metamaterials, Silkworms and More: Twelve Must-Read Stories From October

Nathan Myhrvold speaks with Alan Boyle and Todd Bishop of Geekwire earlier this month

IV in the News

If you click on the video above, you’ll get a first-hand look at Nathan Myhrvold’s fireside chat with Todd Bishop and Alan Boyle of Geekwire earlier this month. Nathan spoke about the importance of metamaterials, investing in invention and the vast potential for technological innovation to improve the lives of those in need. Bonus – check out these photos from the event.

The Military Times shows how Global Good’s Photonic Fence beats bed nets and bug spray when it comes to keeping troops safe from vector-borne illnesses.

What if you could cordlessly connect your cell phones, TVs and computers to power without interruption? Duke University, the University of Washington and Intellectual Ventures are collaborating on technology that could make it possible.

Seattle Photonics Association announced that it will build on the work of our own Invention Science Fund on retinal imaging technology that can monitor changes in astronauts’ eyes during missions.

GeekWire highlights IV spinout Kymeta as it showcases its flat-panel antenna at the Monaco Yacht Show, delivering internet to 80 yachts at once.

Developing life-saving technology

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How a Seattle Doctor is Taking the Fight Against Breast Cancer Global

Breast cancer is the most common cancer worldwide, with approximately 1.7 million new cases diagnosed each year. It is a disease that does not discriminate based on racial and ethnic groups, experiences or age. With 58 percent of deaths from breast cancer occurring in developing countries, it is also a disease that crosses international lines. In fact, breast cancer is increasing rapidly in the developing world, where cases are often diagnosed in late stages and treatment options are severely limited. 

How a Seattle Doctor is Taking the Fight Against Breast Cancer Global

Photo courtesy of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance

Last week, we introduced you to our Innovating for a Cure series in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Today, we spotlight a pioneering medical oncologist and women’s health advocate with a powerful vision that knows no boundaries.

Dr. Julie Gralow is the director of Breast Medical Oncology at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, and a professor in the oncology division of the University of Washington School of Medicine. She has earned numerous awards for her research, chairing several committees, and participating in expert panels for breast cancer treatment and research as a member of the Southwest Oncology Group.

But Dr. Gralow is perhaps most truly defined not by the awards she earned within labs and clinics, but by her compassion for her patients and her tireless work to empower and educate women around the world on breast cancer detection and treatment. 

Taking the Fight Global

Dr. Gralow has launched an international movement of dedicated experts and volunteers arming women with the resources they need to take control of their health. She recognizes that, for far too many women around the world, fear, or the simple access to knowledge, stands in the way of early detection, treatment and ultimately, a happy ending.

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Innovating for a Cure — Dr. Mary-Claire King: Pioneering Advocate and Geneticist

Affecting one in eight women in the United States, the impact of breast cancer touches nearly everyone. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Intellectual Ventures is celebrating two visionaries in the Seattle area whose ideas about what the future holds in the fight against breast cancer is changing lives. These pioneering scientists envision a world free from the disease that takes more than 40,800 lives per year in the U.S. alone, and through their innovation and determination, are turning their vision into reality.

Innovating for a Cure — Dr. Mary-Claire King: Pioneering Advocate and Geneticist

Mary-Claire King and President Barack Obama at the White House during the medal ceremony. Photo courtesy of the National Science and Technology Medals Foundation and Ryan K. Morris.

A geneticist and professor of Genome Sciences and Medicine at the University of Washington, Dr. Mary-Claire King is known worldwide for her groundbreaking gene work related to human conditions such as HIV, lupus, inherited deafness, and also breast and ovarian cancer. Dr. King discovered her true passion for genetics in graduate school, where she eventually combined her innovative vision in the field of genetics with statistics and evolutionary biology to drive her work to the war on cancer. This combination led Dr. King to the assumption that certain cancers, like breast cancer, might be genetically linked mutations and not caused by viruses.

Dr. King’s relentless pursuit for answers and advocacy for women’s health lead to the breakthrough discovery of the “breast cancer gene,” proving that breast cancer is hereditary in some families. This work has revolutionized diagnosis and treatment, proving that genetics and complex human disease can have a relationship, saving lives and empowering women.

Science for Human Rights
 

A passionate advocate for social justice, Dr. King has dedicated her life and science acumen to improving lives worldwide. Not always popular at the time, Dr. King’s contributions to breast cancer research were driven by the need for women to be equipped with the genetic information to make critical health decisions for themselves and their families.

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Nathan Myhrvold at GeekWire Summit 2016

Intellectual Ventures founder and CEO Nathan Myhrvold joined journalists Tom Bishop and Alan Boyle last week for a “fireside chat” at the 2016 GeekWire Summit. The conference brought together more than 800 thought leaders to explore technological advancements and the future of innovation. 

Nathan Myhrvold at GeekWire Summit 2016

With hundreds of leading technology experts in attendance – from top executives at companies like Expedia and Microsoft, to a former NFL wide receiver – the conference highlighted a diverse set of visionaries striving to transform the world through new ideas.  

Although covering a wide range of topics, Nathan touched on the importance of metamaterials, investing in invention, and the vast potential for technological innovation to improve the lives of those in need. Nathan illustrated how IV’s business model has led to numerous breakthrough spinout companies, focusing specifically on the newest addition to the list, Xinova.

Here are some of our favorite quotable moments from Nathan’s remarks:

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How the Road Less Traveled Led to Blue Jeans

Blue jeans have become an integral part of the clothing industry and our culture. They are fundamental, timeless and just plain ordinary. Yet, as Nathan Myhrvold points out in an interview with Bloomberg Advantage, the creation of blue jeans was not so ordinary. The man behind the jeans, Levi Strauss, a German-born émigré to the United States, developed the idea by seizing an opportunity that no one else had thought to pursue. 

How the Road Less Traveled Led to Blue Jeans

Originally based with his family in New York City, Strauss became one of the many Americans to travel west and take advantage of the gold rush. After arriving in San Francisco, Strauss set up shop to continue the dry goods establishment that his brothers started. In addition to the shop, Strauss had another idea in mind. He wanted to make canvas tents for the forty-niners. However, those who arrived before him had a similar idea and built buildings that eliminated the need for tents.

It was then that Strauss found an original way to capitalize on the gold rush that this time, no one else had thought of – pants that would withstand the rugged conditions of a forty-niner’s lifestyle. As Myhrvold describes it, “[Strauss] wound up making blue jeans and created this gigantic fortune because the obvious opportunities were already taken.”

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The U.S. May Lead the World in Invention, but There’s More We Need to Do

Decades of research demonstrate that diversity is a key driving force for innovation, fostering creativity and creating an environment where “outside the box” ideas can be heard. Yet, statistics show a harsh reality of missed opportunity: diversity in invention is seriously lacking for both women and minorities, today and throughout history.

The U.S. May Lead the World in Invention, but There’s More We Need to Do

A recent report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that more than 81 percent of patents include no women inventors. Unless real changes happen soon, it will likely take until 2092 for women inventors to reach gender equity in patenting. The report also found that women are particularly marginalized in patent-intensive STEM fields, where they were awarded only 20 percent of computer science degrees and 19 percent of engineering degrees in 2010.

Unfortunately, the industry’s lack of representation does not end with women. The Information, Technology and Innovation Foundation found that minorities make up a mere 8 percent of U.S.-born innovators. African Americans, despite comprising 13 percent of the native-born population, represent just half a percent of U.S.-born innovators.

As a global inventions company, we’re no stranger to these challenges—and we actively do what we can to encourage women and minorities to pursue STEM-intensive fields and achieve their invention goals. Our president and COO Adriane Brown speaks regularly on the topic, and our community relations program supports organizations like Expanding Your Horizons that encourage early interest in technology.

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News You Can Use: Don’t Just Think Big, Think Different

As Senior Vice President of Global Good and Research Maurizio Vecchione remarks, “innovation requires looking at a problem from a new perspective.” Our favorite links this month tell stories of outside-the-box thinkers — from students and scientists to mathematicians during the space race and even a 19th-century English noblewoman — whose unique outlooks on complex problems led to life-changing solutions.

News You Can Use: Don’t Just Think Big, Think Different

Problem Solving to Improve Lives

Robert Fischell, inventor of the rechargeable pacemaker and the implantable insulin pump, shared a look into his problem-solving approach and creative process.

“Hidden Figures” tells the story of African American women mathematicians who conquered complex math for the space race. Don’t miss this September must-read.

A 16-year-old is working on bringing the gift of sound to more people through his invention of a device that could make hearing aids more affordable.

Imaging scientist and social impact inventor Ramesh Raskar won the Lemelson-MIT Prize for his Femto-photography work that is, quite literally, impacting how we see the world.

IV in the News

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