Some Solid Thinking Around CO2 Emissions


You’d have to be living in a cave to avoid the battling voices surrounding climate change and the role that carbon emissions play in this global challenge. And while I won’t argue the value of discussing where to place blame, I’m much more interested in conversations that are forward-looking and explore what we can do about carbon dioxide. But even at that, the vast majority of what I hear has to do with lessening the amount of CO2 we put in the atmosphere. I’m cool with that, but what excites me even more is when I run into ideas that purport to tackle the carbon that’s already emitted.

I’ve run into a number of innovations that aim to gather CO2 and sequester it deep underground in caverns and even old oil wells (how’s that for irony?) But to date these solutions can’t put much of a guarantee forward that promises that there won’t be any leaks and all that expensive effort will be for naught.

Rather than capture and bury carbon, why not turn it into something truly benign? Sound crazy? Not really. A curious experiment in Iceland has done just that.

Studying carbon capture and storage (CCS) solutions led researchers from Southampton University in the United Kingdom to Iceland, where they injected 220 tons of carbon dioxide into the depths of the earth.

It turns out, if you pump a cocktail of carbon dioxide and water into underground volcanic basalt, the mixture turns into a solid rock. And once the CO2 turns into rock there is no risk of the greenhouse gas seeping out to warm the planet. What is exceptionally groundbreaking about this experiment is the amount of time the transformation requires. According to this BBC article, 95% of the 220 tons of CO2 injected into Iceland’s basalts was converted into limestone in less than two years. (more…)

Teaching Teachers How To Teach


When you reflect back to school, how much of what you learned do you actually apply to your daily life? And if you went to college, do you remember taking classes to fulfill credits even though they were far from being aligned with your degree? Surprisingly, students going to school to become educators go through similar experiences, where the focus is more on meeting requirements than it is on preparation for the intended job: to teach in a classroom.

The former president of the Teachers College at Columbia University and current president of the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Foundation, Arthur Levine, has partnered with MIT to create an education school that puts the old way of learning on its head. Called the Woodrow Wilson Academy of Teaching and Learning, this new graduate school is reinventing the way teachers learn to teach.

The Academy’s website calls itself an innovative education lab, where students obtain competency-based master’s degrees as opposed to teaching degrees that require all sorts of seemingly random classes. The curriculum will not focus on specific courses and credits like traditional schooling does. Instead, it will prepare students with the skills they need to thrive in the classroom once they graduate. And like the blog I wrote last week where the brewery that produced a biodegradable six-pack holder wants other breweries to follow suit, Levine also wants schools and educators to adopt the Academy’s ideas and practices. Nice. (more…)

Cheers to a Marine Life-Friendly Six-Pack Holder!


Image from

You know the drill: When you pull the plastic holder off of a six-pack of soda or beer, you grab the scissors and slice it into little bits so that when it eventually ends up in the ocean, the rings won’t choke marine life. That’s a great precautionary measure and it undoubtedly lessens the number of sea creatures that choke on the plastic. Unfortunately, what I just described isn’t remotely a common enough practice from our fellow beverage imbibers. And even more unfortunately, although you may do that important ring slicing, that still doesn’t prevent animals from eating the plastic.

You may have seen pictures before of dead animals with bellies brimming with plastic. It isn’t a pretty site at all, but it’s worth paying attention to because even if you aren’t a big six-packer, we have all contributed to this problem in our plastic-laden society (sorry to break the news to you if you haven’t thought of that before).

And it was exactly because of my involvement in these environmental catastrophes that I was excited to read about a brewery creating a 100 percent biodegradable six-pack ring that is not only safe for animals, but they can actually eat the packaging. Say hello to Screamin’ Reels IPA, Saltwater Brewery‘s new six-pack with a biodegradable holder. It’s downright brilliant.

Saltwater Brewery’s primary target, unsurprisingly, are folks who love the sea: surfers and fishermen. This initiative speaks volumes to the brewery’s crowd with an alignment in values and empathy for those bigger questions that the best brands practice. And with help from what appears to be a very purposeful ad agency, We Believers, the brewery has created quite the campaign. (more…)

When You Turn a Practiced Concept On its Head


It has been just over six decades since the first kidney transplant was successfully performed, and with that groundbreaking surgery an entire arena of life-saving transplants for a variety of organs has become commonplace. Except it’s not common enough. Despite the millions of people who dutifully check the box that says “Yes, I’ll be a donor” on their drivers licenses, there are many more who are in a place of need than organs available. One of the barriers to transplants is urgency; organs have to be harvested and transported with extreme rapidity because they just can’t sit on ice forever. And yes, organs currently are transported in a plastic cooler just like you’d see at the beach, as this Washington Post article articulates.

So why the crude analogy? Because 62 years later there finally comes a new method for transferring human organs. It has been commonly thought that storing a transplanted organ – heart, lung, kidney or liver – with ice would be the best way to keep it fresh. But sometimes it is hours between the time an organ leaves one body and enters the next, and this old technique doesn’t always cut it.

But now there promises to be a new method and it accomplishes the critical transportation needs with quite the opposite approach. Produced by TransMedics, a Massachusetts-based medical device company, the new Organ Care System actually keeps the organs warm – much like they are while properly functioning inside the body. It is a portable device that maintains organs in a functioning state, which increases the amount of time they can be kept outside of a body before the transplant.

Through sensors that monitor and transmit information about the organs to doctors, the device maintains the organ’s natural temperature. Doctors can oversee it from afar and can dictate oxygen levels and even pressure in the veins, as the Washington Post article explains. Essentially, this device doesn’t just preserve organs like ice always has; it keeps the organs alive and working. (more…)

New Video Game a Treasure for Alzheimer’s Researchers

I am willing to bet that if you don’t personally know somebody battling Alzheimer’s disease, you know somebody who knows somebody. That is because there is a new case of this memory-eroding disease in the world every three seconds. Two new people have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s since you started reading this blog. It is a remarkably painful experience to watch those you love lose their ability to find the familiar in their life, and I cannot even fathom what it must be like to be the one experiencing the disease.

While many of us watch the progression of victims of this malady, Michael Hornberger, a professor and dementia researcher at Norwich Medical School in England, is taking action in an usual way. He has created a cutting-edge video game that provides scientists with coveted data on the way users’ brains work. Quite frankly, I’ve never seen large amounts of data collected in quite this way.

Hornberger teamed up with a neuroscientist at University College London named Hugo Spiers who specializes in spatial perception. The combination of those two, six other scientists, funding from Deutsche Telekom and developing by an app company called Glitchers equals a game that does a substantial amount of good.

Sea Hero Quest is the tale of a young boy and his father who went on sea voyages and captured the sea creatures they saw with pen and paper, archiving them in a book. Eventually, when the father grew grey, his brain stopped making the connection to his memories. As a user, you take the role of the explorer and the objective is to collect your father’s withering memories. As you navigate through mazes and icy channels, data is sent anonymously back to neuroscientists, who then study the way you orient yourself in space.

Loss of navigational skills is one of the first signs of dementia, and when you play this video game you lend very important information about your brain’s capabilities to these researchers – specifically, they try to figure out where those who get lost go wrong. (more…)

Getting the Lead out with Micro Machines


I’ve paid close attention to water pollution over the years, and if you follow along with this blog you have likely read some posts about it. Even if you’re new to Naked Civics, you’re still probably well aware of the issue with news stories like the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch bringing clean water causes to the forefront. And now more recently, and quite tragically in my mind, we are confronted with the events in Flint, Michigan.

Flint’s water crisis came into the spotlight two years ago after countless complaints came in from its citizens. After far too many denials, deferrals and pass the hot potato moves between local, state and federal agencies, it was finally determined that officials failed to run corrosion inhibitors through the intake pipes from the Flint River which, due to budget cuts, has become the city’s water source. This failure resulted in the mass consumption of metals like lead. This is pure poison: lead has been strongly linked to a wide variety of chronic health problems and degradation of mental faculties. While my and your daily life is probably blessed with water you can happily hydrate with worry-free, the residents of Flint have gone for a very long time with nothing but worry.

And yet, once again, we can look to the innovators and inventors to push into this problem with amazing energy. In this fascinating post in I learned of a solution that I think sounds mighty promising. (more…)

Constraining Your Way to Unrestrained Value

EmbraceSometimes the best way to kill an idea is to throw too much money at it too fast. I know that this may sound counterintuitive but I’ve seen it over and over. More often, great innovations come from places of constraint, and I’ve been taught that just about as many times. Starting with less forces creativity and important choice making. And sometimes those choices end up saving lives. In the following case, hundreds of thousands of them.

Attending a Stanford University Design class in 2008, a graduate student named Jane Chen was asked to create a medical device for neonatal hypothermia. But there was a catch: the design had to cost a mere one percent of the price of normally available incubators. It was there that Chen met her partners Razmig Hovaghimian, Linus Liang, Rand Naganand Murty and Rahul Panicker, all five of which make up the team behind Embrace – a cost-effective solution to baby temperature control.

Embrace is an infant warmer lined with a wax-like substance that can hold a 98.6-degree temperature for up to eight hours, as described by this post in Inc. Magazine. Unlike electric blankets and other more financially friendly substitutes for expensive incubators, Embrace doesn’t require electricity. You can bet that beyond the cheaper price, the fact that it is a stand-alone design makes it all the more relevant.

The concept is about as simple as the bags pizza delivery guys and gals carry our dinners in, but the benefits of the baby warmer are beyond comparable. You simply wrap the baby up like you are swaddling it with a blanket, and the material’s technology regulates the little body’s temperature. (more…)

A Keyboard that Gives Voices to the Voiceless

YougotThisrockstardisABILITYMy fair state of Minnesota is nothing if not a breeding ground for bright medical innovations and healthcare improvements. We are positively an epicenter for top-tier care organizations, device manufacturers, and treatment centers. Big news comes out of the area almost daily but today I want to introduce you to a small idea. Small, but oh so very beautiful.

Brought to you by Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, Emojability is an emoji keyboard that was designed for those with special needs. I’m guessing that you’re already familiar with emoji keyboards. They are the little smiley faces, hearts and animal symbols that are not only popping up in text messages, but on social media platforms as well. They are used to express either what words cannot, or what words are less fun at expressing. And they are, for the most part, universal in their understandability; spanning language and cultural barriers at the touch of a key.




Something cool happened this week. But it’s not the kind of thing I normally share because I was part of it. For those who have followed this blog over the past five years, you’ll know that I devote this space to writing about those who inspire me as they create a world that moves forward rather than hard to the political right and left. And today, I write about something I am involved in that will help move the world forward, together.

On Monday I stood among some folks that inspired me on that path moving forward. I was part of launching ManyOne, a scholarship that sends bi-partisan legislators from my home state of Minnesota into a leadership experience and into the growing community around it who call themselves Studio/E.

I am a co-founder of Studio/E and as such I need to fill you in on it. Studio/E is a community of leaders from just about every sector who join cohorts and learn how to explore, launch and navigate new ideas with an entrepreneurial mindset and effective practices that get people unstuck. Our membership reads like a bad bar joke: what do you get when you put a CEO, doctor, poet, rabbi, minister, artist, lawyer together? Yep, our folks come from just about every walk of life.

And when they do walk through the doors, they drop their labels and begin to learn their way forward in a rapidly changing world; a world that they all want to make better and more prosperous. Studio/E folks aren’t their titles, their education, their religion, their lifestyles or even their politics. It’s a place of first names and generous and generative thinking.

Over the past three years, I’ve been partnering with some very important people to me with the aim of ensuring that we have a steady presence of law makers – the very folks who live in one of the most labeled up environments we have. And too often it is stuck. Very stuck.

Dean Phillips of the Phillips Family Foundation and Sean Kershaw of the Citizens League run two remarkable (and remarkably effective) organizations, and along with my partner in crime at Studio/E, Tom Wiese, we have launched a mechanism to sustain their presence, grow this community of legislative leaders and bring them under a common banner that represents their common interest, their common way of learning and their common operating culture. I believe in the uncommonly good promise of their possibility. My legislative friends are called ManyOne, named after E Pluribus Unum: “out of many, one,” which spans the Seal of the United States.

It’s important for me to note that these wonderful folks have not abandoned their parties, philosophies or strongly-held views. This isn’t about ending disagreements and finding the middle. ManyOne is about something additional, something more simple and timeless.

ManyOne members, like those in the greater Studio/E family, believe that if your job is to learn faster rather than do what you currently do harder, then you better not hang out with folks who know what you know. Broader views rather than narrow vision wins the day. And that’s true in every sector.

I know, I know. The idea of taking democrats and republicans, helping them get to know one another personally, and then throwing them into a greater group of leaders where they all learn how to create new approaches to needs, opportunities and challenges sounds awfully dangerous. Dangerous enough for me to write about it here.

But again, Naked Civics is and always will be about people who inspire me. My heartfelt thanks go out to Dean, Sean, Tom, the hundreds of people in my Studio/E family, and especially my legislative ManyOne friends who have chosen a path of learning so we can move forward. Together.

The Two Most Powerful Words in Innovation


What if?

Countless great innovation stories start with this very powerful and yet very simple question. In the case I write about today the question was, “what if making scaffolding for engineered human tissue could be as easy as making other materials, like textiles?” Engineered human tissue has increasingly become an answer to many medical questions that until recently seemed impossible. It has been used to help burn victims, in surgeries of all kinds and even, according to this Smithsonian article, to create entire tracheas for patients with failing airways. Engineering human tissue is a very useful process.

But just because it’s useful doesn’t mean it’s easy or cheap. The process involves creating something called scaffolding, which is where scientists grow the tissue, and creating this can be a long and arduous process. This particular type of scaffolding is created through electrospinning, which is an intricate way of spinning threads of polymer together via the power of an electric force.

The dean of the University of Missouri’s College of Engineering, Elizabeth Loboa, and her team were the ones looking at human tissue engineering and asked, what if they could look at standard practices already in place for producing textiles and utilize them for producing scaffolding for engineered human tissue? This question opened up many new possibilities, and Loboa and her team then began to work with researchers at North Carolina State University’s College of Textiles to further explore this question. (more…)