“Moonshots”—that’s the term adopted by the Google-hatched innovation forum Solve for X to describe a special kind of idea (found, not incidentally, in abundant supply at MIT). These are audacious notions, addressing massive global problems from cancer to climate change, that might be described as fantastical if they weren’t backed by emerging technologies that could turn them into reality.
Last year Solve for X established a website that now hosts hundreds of videos featuring big thinkers—engineers, architects, biologists, programmers, Ira Glass—with the imagination, guts, and/or know-how to aim sky-high. If the concept sounds reminiscent of the TED tagline “ideas worth spreading,” it’s no surprise that TED is a partner in the enterprise and has contributed videos of popular TED talks such as:
- Angela Belcher, MIT’s Germeshausen Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Biological Engineering, on how nature can teach us to create better batteries and solar cells.
- Hugh Herr SM ’93, head of the Biomechatronics research group at the MIT Media Lab, on the rock-climbing accident that drives his quest to create bionic limbs.
- David H. Koch Institute Professor Robert Langer ScD ’74 on synthesizing the next generation of medical materials.
Before its website launched, Solve for X originated as an invitation-only TED-like gathering, which has also featured MIT faculty:
- Alexander and I. Michael Kasser Professor of Chemical Engineering Karen Gleason ’82, SM ’82 connects the dots between hydrophobic surfaces and greater energy efficiency.
- MIT Media Lab cofounder Nicholas Negroponte ’66, MAR ’66 on technology that allows children around the world to seize control of their own education.
MIT Technology Review, another of the initiative’s partners, has contributed videos of honorees from the magazine’s annual TR35 (Innovators Under 35) list. Among them:
- Christopher Bettinger ’03, MNG ’04, PhD ’08, discusses the creation of medical materials that mimic natural tissue and can be tailored to break down inside the body.
A sampling of other MIT alumni who are shooting for the moon:
- Leslie Dewan ’06, PhD ’13, “Power from Nuclear Waste”
- Peter Diamandis ’83, SM ’88, “Harvesting Asteroids”
- Julia Greer ’97, “3-D Architected Nano Metamaterials”
- Saul Griffith SM ’01, PhD ’04, “Inflatable Robots”
- Alex Wissner-Gross ’03, “Networking Faster than Light”
Read more about Solve for X in the Huffington Post.