Students for a Smarter Planet ..leaders with conscience

Sherlock Holmes, the fictional detective, was regularly whipping his trusty magnifying glass out of his greatcoat to examine clues at crime scenes.  In both the printed short stories and novels, as well as on film, his deeper scrutiny of evidence – via the enlargement by lens – was most often followed by an “a-ha!” moment that typically leads to the villian(s)’ undoing.  Now, imagine that every man, woman and child all over the planet could engage in their own “a-ha” moment…not necessarily as a crime-solver, but for the simple pleasure of seeking out answers.

That’s the dream of one Manu Prakash, a professor at Stanford University in California.  He wants everyone to have the tools available to “think like a scientist”!  High-tech usually equates to high dollars to obtain the equipment necessary for scientific study.  School budgets are notoriously strapped in both developed and developing countries.  Professor Prakash and his research mates at PrakashLab have given the every-man a solution – their unit is a print-and-fold optical microscope that can be assembled from a flat sheet of paper:


Foldscope: Microscopy for



Photo credit:


Released in 2014, and much publicized then (check out: Foldscope Is A Paper Microscope That Can Fit In Your Pocket on Inquisitr) and since (take a look at this video posted on the Stanford Medicine Scope blog this June: Microscopes for the masses), the intervening time has been spent making this patented invention available in all corners of the globe.

And take a look at the many uses that have been devised by the folks who were part of their highly successful beta program:

Foldscope Explore: Exploring the Microcosmos


The endless possibilities for exploration and learning and disease control and…  well, what will YOU do with the microscope in YOUR pocket?  Or will you create the next affordable equipment that we can all have access to?  The journey has begun – where will you take it?

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October, 8th 2015

On October 5th (Monday), we had a meeting with Sustain U, a committee responsible for sustainable initiatives at our student union. As we would like to implement the paraSOL project on one of the terraces in the student union, we are working with Sustain U to move forward with our ideas.

We presented our solar charging table project to the Sustain U committee, Sustain U’s assistants, Sylvia and Kathy, and CSULB’s Recycling Coordinator, Lee Johnson. They were very excited to see a collective group of students working together to improving sustainability on campus and opening people’s minds to the impact of energy emissions. After our presentation, we opened the floor for questions and suggestions. We got a range of questions from safety concerns, electrical grounding, the location, and the budget. Some critical factors we have to consider is the pathway access to the 3rd floor of our student union; whether the table can fit into a building’s freight elevator, whether the table can be taken apart for storage, and who will professionally install the table to meet code regulations.

There are still a ways before we can actually start on constructing this project, but we have received a lot of support and help. We are also working with the International Society of Automation (ISA) chapter at CSULB in designing the tables. We are excited to see what cool things we can do with this project!

CSULB Tables

Regular tables at the Southwest Terrace of the University Student Union.

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I love it when I come across articles that describe how companies are using waste products in unconventional ways.  I find the solutions for everyday waste products both fascinating and surprising (and in some cases think – I should have thought of that!).

Take a look at some of these really cool recycle ideas:

1.  Turning tomatoes into plastics – because the demand for plastics is growing, more thought is needed on how to sustainably satisfy the demand.  Auto-giant Ford has been leading research into 100% bio-based plastics, teaming up with Heinz in a mutually beneficial heinzWhile producing their world famous ketchup, Heinz generates up to 2 million tons of stems, seeds and skins every single year. In a collaboration with plastics research specialists from Ford, the companies are striving to create a plastic material from plant byproducts which can be used in many aspects of automotive design and finishing.  The Coca-Cola Company, Nike Inc. and Procter & Gamble are also involved in the project, which will incorporate bio-plastic material into everything from packaging to clothing, making a huge dent in the impact of petrochemical-based products on the environment.

2.  De-icing roads with cheese brine – yes, you read that correctly.  The Wisconsin city of Milwaukee has discovered a way to alleviate the dairy manufacturers’ problem of disposing of thousands upon thousands of gallons of cheese brine (the salty liquid which is left over after the production of Wisconsin’s famous soft cheeses).  They will use this cheese brine waste to treat the harsh winter roadways which freeze over with ice.  This new partnership saves tens of thousands of dollars for the municipality and manufacturers every year.

blog milwaukee

3.  Making beer with unsold bread – The “Brussels Beer Project” led by the Belgium micro-brewers have teamed up with a local sustainability group to produce “Babylone”- a beer made using leftover bread which would otherwise have been thrown out.

Talented brewing specialists were able to reduce the amount of barley used in the brewing process and replace it with bread sourced from local supermarkets, a move which sees an average of 500kg worth of unused loaves that find their way into 4000 liters of amber ale.

blog bread

4.  Using sugar beets to cool refrigerators – Anaerobic digestion, the process by which biodegradable waste materials are converted into energy or heat – has become a staple in the quest for greener industry.  The success of anaerobic digestion led UK supermarket giant Sainsbury’s to investigate new ways in which food byproducts could be utilized, leading to the implementation of eCO2: an alternative refrigerant which is derived from waste sugar beet.

blog sugar beets

Piles of sugar beets. Waste beet material is being used to create eCO2.

eCO2 meets all the refrigeration requirements of CO2, but is manufactured in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way. The same manufacturer that supplies Sainsbury’s with sugar also supplies the refrigeration company with the waste beet material necessary for creating eCO2, which Sainsbury’s will use to cut their CO2 emissions by 30% by 2020.

Do you have any waste produced that you can recycle into something that reduces the draw on our natural resources?

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October, 7th 2015

Lego has been enjoying a resurgance in popularity due to the current use of Robotics to enhace the science curriculum in all grade levels.  But, alas, paper dolls seem to be a thing of my youth – I rarely see these simple toys in the hands (never mind imaginations) of the little ones I encounter…  Even stuffed animals – once an inanimate object to whom one could whisper their innermost dreams and secrets – are undergoing a renaissance.   So, what are the tech toys making a splash?  Read up on some of them here…

This high-tech plush toy will be

your child’s new BFF


Tech bear

Image: Mashable/Jhila Farzaneh

Check out some other fun playthings – - courtesy of

Fisher Price


And if you’re young (or young-ish or just ‘young at heart’…) you may want to book yourself a trip to NYC for the 2016 Toy Fair where all the latest gizmos and gadgets to delight your inner child will be on display! Click the logo below to learn more…

Toy Fair

Will you be putting the next ‘must-have’ toy in the hands of children everywhere?  There’s no limit to what YOUR imagination might dream up…

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October, 6th 2015

So, you may be wondering how can lights cut emissions.  Well, the Danish city of Copenhagen has decided to host a massive experiment to determine the effectiveness of so-called “smart lights” – energy efficient street lamps that could cut carbon emissions and even help monitor an urban setting.

blog street light

Their climate change plan is a roadmap to make Copenhagen “carbon neutral” by 2025, cutting carbon emissions to insignificant levels.  To become utterly devoid of all but the most insignificant of carbon dioxide emissions, the city will have to overhaul and reinvent some of the most iconic parts of city-life.  Lighting has been found to account for about six percent of global carbon emissions, a worrisome greenhouse gas.  According to New Scientist, Los Angeles pumped out 111,000 metric tons of carbon to keep its streets lit, simultaneously costing the city and estimated $15 million.

The 5.7 miles (9.2 km) of road in the Copenhagen suburb of Albertslund has replaced their street lights with “smart lights” which will be closely observed.  These lights could even help monitor city life, sensing potentially dangerous toxins in the air or noticing peculiar street activity that may warrant police attention.

It’s nice to see yet another big move in an effort to clean up our planet.





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