Curious about something at IV Lab? We want to know about it. Whether it’s through Facebook, Twitter or email, let us know what burning questions you have about what happens inside these walls, or our opinion about what’s going on outside of them. We recently rounded up some of the most common questions we hear and posed them to Geoff Deane, head of the Lab. Here’s what he had to say:
How can organizations get involved with IV Lab’s work or test out new inventions like your new satellite antenna?
We collaborate with all sorts of groups, but exactly how and where in the process depends on the project. We specialize in the fuzzy front end of inventing and research, so a lot of the time we’re working on the fundamental science behind an idea. In those cases, we partner with other research laboratories and scientists working on similar issues. Here in the Seattle area we work closely with Seattle BioMed and the University of Washington, but we also have partners throughout Europe and Africa as well.
When we need to take an invention all the way to a prototype, we often look for government, manufacturing and NGO partners to try them out and provide feedback. This is particularly true for our global health projects. Regarding our antenna technology, though, stay tuned on that front. The team driving that project is hoping to pass off the technology for commercial development and to have a product by 2015.
The best way to get in touch about collaborating is to shoot us an email at email@example.com. I know people hate general email aliases, but ours actually has real people behind it who will help get your comment to the right team.
What’s the latest on the photonic fence? Will I ever be able to buy one for my backyard?
We get this question pretty often, which I think says a lot about how much people hate mosquitoes. A commercial version of the photonic fence isn’t out of the question, but our focus is on adapting the technology to fight malaria in the developing world. The prototype Nathan showed at TED proved that our basic idea is feasible, but now we’re working to refine the technology to meet the unique challenges it’ll face in areas like Sub-Saharan Africa. Rain, wind, heat, sand, unreliable power – you name it and this device will have to deal with it.
You’ve filmed some pretty cool stuff with your hi-speed camera, but do you use it in your actual research?
Definitely. We originally bought the Phantom hi-speed camera to study how mosquitoes fly among other things, but it’s too cool to not also have some fun with it. The camera doesn’t get used as much as it used to now that our mosquito research has progressed, but it fits with our “one of every kind of tool, one of every kind of scientist” approach. We have to be more nimble than traditional research laboratories, so we want to have as many capabilities at our disposal as possible. For things like mosquito flight, slowing things way down is one of the best ways to truly understand what’s happening. That’s what makes the camera such a helpful research tool.
What’s your favorite project or invention the Lab has worked on?
That’s a tough question, but not for the reason you might think. Inventors usually treat their inventions like children – they love them and would never question their ability to succeed. For the Lab, though, we have to take a completely different approach. We’ll thoroughly investigate an invention and do everything we can to prove that it’s feasible, but we have to be impartial enough to put it aside when it doesn’t pan out for whatever reason. It’s just a fact of invention that most ideas won’t work out, so you won’t get anywhere if you get so focused on an idea that you can’t walk away from it; knowing when the time is right to walk away is a perpetual challenge. There are some projects that we walk away from which might succeed if we stuck with them, but mostly they won’t; focusing on reducing the pain of failure enables failing often, and we know we’re going to have to endure a lot of failures for each success we produce. I won’t go so far as to pick a favorite project, but I am proud of the work the team is doing in Kenya, designed to increase income of farming families living on about $1/day while improving the safety of the informal milk market; an earlier version of that project went through over a hundred failed permutations before the team had the “aha” moment that put them on the very promising path they’re on now.
Are you guys hiring? What sort of people do you look for?
We’re hiring like crazy to keep up with demand from the various parts of IV. We expect to add about 50 people to the team this year. We typically hire to fit very specific needs, but there are some general traits we look for. One of the big ones is the ability to respect what’s come before, but to not limit yourself to it. That’s a tough balance to find. As an inventor, you have to learn from past research and mistakes, but be daring enough to question assumptions and carve your own path.
We also look for people who are unfazed by the possibility of failure. As I said before, most ideas don’t work. Even for the ones that do, there will be aspects of it that don’t work out like you originally expected them to. To borrow an analogy from baseball, we need people who are okay with swinging for the fences even though it means that they’ll take a few strikes along the way. Check out current career opportunities at the Lab here.