From Three-Month Ice to Fast Broadband Everywhere: Some Projects You Might Not Know About From Intellectual Ventures Lab

4/21/11Follow @curtwoodward

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laser setup. It fired light at bursts on the order of a trillionth of a second and the brightness of a nuclear explosion, and found hemozoin really well, Deane says. But it clearly wasn’t practical on a rural village scale.

“It worked beautifully, but it was very expensive, and we happened to discover along the way this other approach. And it just happened to be maybe 100 times less expensive, which we found interesting,” Deane says with a big laugh. “One could argue it might even be 1,000 times less expensive.”

That other approach is something that Intellectual Ventures is calling the Simple Scan, an advanced type of microscope encased in a rugged metal housing that can be distributed to perform field testing on blood samples. The prototypes built on-site—there are four, nicknamed after the Beatles—are nearly a foot tall and roughly six inches square on the base, although Deane says, “the final product on this could maybe be a third of the size of what we have now.”

The team actually had its bags packed about a month ago to field test the Simple Scan in Kenya, but got a last-minute cancellation. The team hopes to reschedule in June, Deane says.

Vaccine preservation. Another simple-sounding problem that is a huge conundrum in the developing world: How can you keep vaccines at the right temperature for a long period of time? Vaccines are delicate, and need to be held within a specific temperature range to preserve their punch—too cold or too hot and they’re no good at preventing infections. But where they’re needed most, there often isn’t any refrigeration to keep them at a steady, cool temperature.

“In areas where you don’t have electricity readily available, it becomes incredibly complex,” Deane says. “Not only am I moving these vaccines hundreds of miles by road and by foot and by bicycle, I’m also trying to hold the temperature constant in a place that doesn’t have any energy.”

Intellectual Ventures staffers actually encountered a sobering illustration of this problem—and the ingenuity to work around it—a couple of years ago on a trip to a vaccine distribution center in Uganda.

“They found this scene of a parking lot full of propane tanks, like you would put under your bar-b-que. The whole parking lot was full. It was stacked high,” Deane says. “It turns out that many of the regional vaccine distribution centers around the country have propane-based refrigeration. But the government hadn’t paid its propane bill in about four months.”

Intellectual Ventures’ solution was to modify a piece of equipment called a dewar, which is a heavy-duty insulated vessel used to keep things cold. If you’ve ever seen liquid nitrogen wheeled around at a doctor’s office, that’s the kind of squat metal container it comes in. With previous technology, Deane … Next Page »

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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