265 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139 csf@cambridgesciencefestival.org

Big Ideas for VERY Busy People

One of the great things about living in Cambridge is being surrounded by such brilliant minds.  What with numerous colleges and universities in the area, Harvard, MIT, Boston University, Boston College to name a few, we’re bursting with new ideas!
We got a glimpse into 9 novel ideas at the Big IDEAS for Busy People event Friday night, where speakers only have FIVE minutes to describe their big idea, followed by another 5 minutes to answer questions from the audience.  The talks were very diverse, ranging from biomedical and electrical engineering, atmospheric science, physics, psychology, even literature!  There was a huge turnout, and although I showed up half an hour early, I was barely able to find a seat.  Just goes to show how this city drinks in science and new ideas.  I’ve summarized only a few of the great talks below.
In a wonderful intersection of art and science, Professor Erik Demaine described how he uses math and computer science to make beautiful origami sculptures, and how he uses properties of origami to make self-folding object.  Wait, what?  Self-folding!?!  Yup.  You can program a single sheet of material to self-fold into many different shapes.  So basically we are looking at the Ikea of the future now.  You buy a couch as a single sheet and it self-assembles when you arrive home.  But if you’re bored of the couch, you could program it to self-fold into futon, or bed.  Crazy!

 

Prof. Erik Demaine shows us some of the beautiful origami he made using math and computer science.

 

Professor Susan Solomon, who also spoke at the Rivers of Ice: What’s Your Question event, showed us “Where in the world the climate is really changing”.  Many people are aware of the increasing temperatures in the Arctic, leading to melting polar ice caps and loss of habitat for creatures such as the polar bear.  But Prof. Solomon found that when she corrected for seasonal and annual variability, it is actually the tropics that emerged as the place on Earth where the temperature is changing the fastest.  This raises important questions about effects on crops, water, and people in a region that is already so impoverished.

 

Prof. Susan Solomon describes how temperatures have been increasing in the tropics faster than in other regions.
Joseph Coughlin, Director of the MIT AgeLab, asked us “What if everyone lives 101 years?”.  It’s happening more and more every day.  The life expectancy at the beginning of the century (in the industrialized world that is) was a mere 45 years, now it’s common to see many people live well into their 80s.  This means we need to re-think many things, transportation, businesses, policies, to cater to an aging population.  He introduced us to AGNES (Age Gain Now Empathy System), a suit that makes the wearer feel like they are in their mid-70s, with vision, mobility and strength impairments.  In the suit, product developers, engineers, architects and planners can have a better sense of how to design for older populations because they understand the effects of ageing first hand.

 

Joseph Coughlin describes how AGNES (Age Gain Now Empathy System) works.

 

A question sprung up a few times from the audience regarding human over-population; what with the ability to cure diseases, live twice as long as people at the beginning of the century, and a projected human population of 9 billion by the end of this century, all vying for ever dwindling resources and putting stress on our environment, how will we manage?  Perhaps we shall learn the answers at next year’s Big Ideas…

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