CU Physics Professor Steve Pollock, who I had the pleasure of learning from as an undergraduate, was named a 2013 U.S. Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. This a great honor for CU and Steve, but Boulder Weekly use the occasion to write several articles hammering CU for nearly not granting Steve tenure because of his lack of physics research productivity (http://www.boulderweekly.com/article-11944-two-cu-articles-on-pollock-mysteriously-disappear.html, http://www.boulderweekly.com/article-11943-curss-professor-of-the-year-traveled-a-rocky-academic-road.html). While I will be the first to admit that teaching should be re-prioritized at big research universities, these article struck a chord with me as they highlighted Steve and his colleagues’ research in physics education. Since Carl Weimann won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2001, he devoted most of his time to building CU into a world-class center for teaching undergraduate physics and many other professors have followed suit. While I applaud efforts to modernize physics education and believe the PhET applets (http://phet.colorado.edu/) are a spectacular teaching tool, I’m feel strongly that physics research should be done in the physics department and education research should be done in the education department. It is now possible to get a doctorate in Physics researching physics education at CU (http://phys.colorado.edu/research/physics-education-research) and many professors in the physics department now only perform physics education research. I strongly believe that a degree in Physics is the most fundamental quantitative background one can achieve and, while education research is extremely valuable, it devalues the quantitative Physics brand established through centuries of discovery.
While the seeds of a lot of customer relations were already planted prior to launching the Agribotix website (http://www.agribotix.com/), nearly every day since launching we’ve had a potential customer or investor call. From Think Tanks in San Francisco to enormous ranches in Colorado, our online presence has been attracting a lot of attention and it’s nice to see some strong validation of our concept and business plan. Significant pent-up demand exists for UAV-based services and our agricultural surveillance model only scratches the surface of this space. As soon as the FAA approves regulations for commercial use of UAVs, we expect this market to explode and believe we are well positioned as a first mover. This is an exciting time to develop expertise in such a nascent industry and we look forward to continuing to talk to to excited customers.
I’ve always been a fan of the Martha Stewart grocery bags (http://www.marthastewart.com/dap/term/3574). If you’re not familiar with the concept, Martha has a five themed recipes bundled with a shopping list so she takes all the thinking out of meal planning. The web user just selects a theme, prints out the shopping lists, and has ingredients to cook five excellent meals for the week. However, Martha has no way of knowing what’s in season or on sale. I had an idea a few years ago that I thought would revolutionize the way I shopped, but would be extremely hard to implement from my position. The idea is to build an app in partnership with a grocery store promoting sales through a grocery bag-like interface that would provide a weekly meal plan and populate a shopping list. Such an app would drive sales towards the store, raise awareness of weekly sales, and probably engender serious customer loyalty. For a total coup de force, the app would communicate the shopping list to existing home shop services.
Given my programming knowledge is limited to analyzing scientific data and I have no contacts in the grocery industry, I never seriously pursued the idea, but I am absolutely thrilled that Food on the Table (http://www.foodonthetable.com/preset) did all the work for me. The app functions almost exactly as I imagined mine would have and really takes the headache out of shopping and meal planning. While shopping yesterday, I actually showed the interface to the general manager at King Soopers and he was so impressed he called a Monday meeting to discuss King Soopers pursuing a similar strategy (and have me some $2 off coupons to boot). I genuinely believe apps like this will transform the grocery industry and I’m excited to see how King Soopers will capitalize.
I attended AIChE (American Institute of Chemical Engineers) from Sunday to Wednesday to give a paper. I attended some great talks, met some great people, and got some great new collaborators. My talk was very well received and I had a wonderful time talking science for a few days. That may be my last AIChE Meeting, but I highly recommend that any younger students attend every year. For some reason, the annual meeting has a poor reputation, but, after attending for the first time, I would strongly suggest any young chemical engineers attend. It is a great way to meet others in the field, relax with professors, and make excellent industry contacts.
Six months ago I spent two and a half weeks in Mongolia with the Denver Zoo trying to capture Cinereous Vultures for research into their migration patterns. Our method was a little unorthodox in that we developed a remote-control quadcopter (image at the bottom of this page) to release a net over the nest, allowing, in principle, the zoo researchers enough time to approach the nest and tag the bird. While the project didn’t quite work as well as envisioned, it did spur a strong interest in unmanned aerial vehicles and drones and developed into the business I’ve been helping launch.
Agribotix employs fixed wing autonomous drones to snap aerial images of agricultural land which can be used to minimize pesticide, herbicide, fertilizer, and water use. The website I built just launched so check it out here. The Penguin drone took a series of images of the Boulder Model Airport environs and the combined, orthorectified image is shown below.
Obama Care’s insurance exchange website, HealthCare.gov, has been skewered in the media recently and I never could figure out exactly what was wrong with it so I logged in the morning to shop for a plan. Without any hiccups, I entered my state, was taken to the local connectforhealthco.com exchange, and a list of plans was displayed based on my demographic information. For me, a healthy, non-smoking man in his late twenties, a bronze plan started at around $130 per month for a no-name provider with the Kaiser plan starting around $150. I read that the health care exchange would raise prices on my demographic, but when I was shopping for insurance several years ago, the seemingly identical plan from Kaiser cost closer to $200 per month. Granted, this is a totally unscientific analysis and maybe after aging a few years my risk has decreased, but the prices seem at least stable if not lower for my demographics. Also, while I didn’t actually purchase the plan, the website seemed flawless. Maybe the specifics will come out with time, but because Obama Care is so polarizing I have to wonder if partisan politics are coming into play with the criticism of the web exchange.
In my previous post, I expressed surprise at how thorough provisional patent applications have to be. After reading extensively about the process and learning what should be included, I discovered that provisional applications require everything that non-provisional applications require aside from the claims and prior art sections, although some law firms recommend writing claims into the provisional application. Because my and my co-inventors’ idea was fairly simple, we decided to write the application ourselves to save the money on the legal fees, but excluded a claims section due to the legal complications of including claims in a provisional application. There are some excellent templates available online and after a few revisions I think we will be comfortable submitting our provisional application to the patent office, and, if this business succeeds, hiring counsel to help with the non-provisional application within a year.
For anyone else considering writing a provisional patent application, my takeaway from all the research I’ve done is as follows:
1) A provisional application can serve as nice candy for investors or customers because, once filed, the invention can be referred to as “Patent Pending.”
2) A provisional application is only $130 and adds an extra year of protection so there is really no reason not to file.
3) Filing a good provisional application is essential. A bad provisional application can ruin the patentability of an otherwise great idea. I took a risk here by writing it myself, but it was an excellent learning opportunity.
My BioFrontiers flag football team faced off against the Leeds Business School MBA students last night and delivered a soul-crushing 30-14 whipping that settled the previously non-existent graduate program rivalry. However, this game was so fun that afterwards I called for the establishment of a graduate Olympiad pitting PhDs vs. MDs vs. JDs vs. MFAs vs. MBAs vs. whatever else is out there to compete for the the Graduate Cup.
I began filing a provisional patent application covering some work that spun out of my most recent project, but quickly realized that the Tech Transfer Office exists for a reason and passed the idea off to them. However, learning the process still seems pretty valuable in the long run and I’m currently putting together an application for an idea unrelated to my research work. We learned about provisional applications in a Pharmaceutical Biotechnology class and I left the class with the impression that anyone could just throw one together. This is definitely not the case. A provisional application is almost as thorough as a full patent application. The provisional applications are not reviewed by the patent office until non-provisional applications are filed, but, in the event that the patent reaches the next level, a good provisional application is critical. I thought I would log in today and write about how easy filing a provisional application is and share the steps with my site visitors, but this is definitely not the case. I will keep you updated on the process, but it will be learning process.
Every now and then I read an article about endocrine disruptors and other ethereal chemical toxins that have a potentially deleterious effect on human health. In particular, I’m talking about Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times column this week (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/17/opinion/kristof-this-is-your-brain-on-toxins.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&_r=0). He points a finger at ExxonMobil, Dow, BASF, and DuPont for apparently knowingly foisting chemical poisons on the American public. While I am by no means an apologist and recognize that corporations generally do not have the general public’s best interests at heart, these kind of articles really ignore the substantial testing that new chemicals must undergo before being commercialized and ignore the lives saved through “toxic” chemistry. An excellent example lies with airbags. Sodium azide is extremely toxic with a dermal toxicity of 20 mg/kg according to its MSDS, meaning around a gram of powder contacting the skin could have a serious effect on human health. Ingesting less than a gram is usually fatal. Sodium azide is also explosive with the high energy azide portion decomposing rapidly into nitrogen when detonated. However, auto manufacturers have harnessed sodium azide’s energy to deploy airbags, which save thousands of lives each year. While I recognize this is an extreme example in which the benefits clearly outweigh the costs, but the general public should use the same logical progression for evaluating all industrial chemicals. For example, plastic food packaging has replaced soldered metal packaging in many areas and the incidence of stomach cancer in the US has plummeted as a result. Bisphenol-A (BPA) has extensively employed in plastic packaging and now is being investigated an an endocrine disruptor. While I support research into safer chemistry, alternatives should be suggested in addition to the finger pointing. I’m not sure I buy all of their conclusions, but this (http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/01/lead-crime-link-gasoline?page=1) Mother Jones article is a pretty cool look at how removing organic lead from gasoline affected the US population.