Idea Tree

There are lots of different types of evolution-type trees out there. Since everything evolves over time, it seems to make sense.

It would be really cool, though, to be able to look back at where the greatest ideas of our time have come from. Where are the ideas that started revolutions and which ones fizzled after a promising start? Google has done the world a great service by cataloging these changes in ideas by logging who is citing who in academic literature. This makes it possible to trace an idea’s genealogy, so to speak, and see how far that idea has come from humble beginnings in a lab in the distant past. Who in science thinks along the same road as their predecessors and who is crossing boundaries?

The great part about this project is that in order to be feasible it almost has to be personal. Find an idea you love and look back at where it comes from and what other great ideas were born from the same stock but took a different path.

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Population Problems

In immunology, different cells can be identified based on specific markers. The problem is knowing exactly which markers separate the population you’re looking for from all the other cells that could be in there. That’s where it would be helpful to have an app that could sort it all out for you.

Based on the large amount of literature out there, it wouldn’t be too hard to categorize all the different cell types based on their particular markers and enter them into a database. The app could then search through the database and tell you which markers you should look for. If, for example, you want to separate populations of macrophages from dendritic cells, you put the two cell types into the app and it comes back with what markers you could use to differentiate the two. What would make it even better is if it could work in reverse as well, telling you what kinds of cells you have by giving the app what markers the cells are expressing.

This would definitely save a lot of new students hours of time and give them a much more accurate picture of what they have. When you’re a PhD student working 80 hour weeks, saving that time might make the app price worth it, even if it means you have to skip on a box of macaroni.

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Melting Pot

I think it’s safe to say that everyone has experienced insecurity at some point in their life about their physical appearance. If not – go you! We could all use more self-confidence. That’s why I would love to see a web page created that is dedicated to celebrating our differences and visualizing the melting pot that the world has become.

My idea is a site that asks visitors to use their webcam to snap a picture of their face, which is then analyzed and catalogued according to various detailed facial features like skin color, nose shape, eye color, lip shape, etc. You can then hit a “Melt” button and the site will merge every face in the catalogue and produce a truly average face that is a blend of everyone who has uploaded their image. The more people who upload to the site, the more representative the generated face will be of the real population. Users could be able to filter by geographic region, sex, ethnicity, age, profession, and various other attributes voluntarily submitted with the uploaded photos. They should also be able to deconstruct the generated face to see which real individual faces composed it.

I think the result would be surprisingly eye-opening. We see so many “ideal” people in the entertainment industry, that it can sometimes skew our perspective of what is truly normal. We should instead celebrate our differences and realize that the real America is very different from on-screen America.

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Chutes and Ladders

If you haven’t seen it already, you should check out VW’s fantastic site, The Fun Theory, a website “dedicated to the thought that something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better.”

I have a Fun Theory idea that could be applicable in cities like Lausanne, San Francisco, and Seattle. Their common factor – hills! And surprisingly, they are all great walking cities. However, I know at least in Lausanne (with an elevation difference in 1,640 ft in an area of only 7.2 developed sq mi!) it is nearly impossible even for fit people to walk from the southernmost/lowest part of the city to the northernmost/highest part. And in San Francisco, it can be exhausting to even get groceries from a couple blocks away should your grocer be down one of SF’s notoriously steep hills from your residence. This encourages people to use public transportation like busses or tramways to travel even short distances.

Wouldn’t it be a great advantage (and great fun) to have a slide and pulley system on the steepest walking streets in town?

We have seen slides installed in various subways and even one super long one in rural Japan, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one installed as a way to get down a steep walking hill quicker. Nor have I ever seen an uphill version (which, when you think about it, would be even more practical). What about a system like a snowless t-bar lift that would use skateboards instead of the simple cross-bars on a revolving line? People could pay 25 or 50c per trip uphill to account for the operational cost.

I realize this is a bit of a pipe dream, but the kid in me loves the idea of finding a way to enjoy something as dull as making my way to the train station in the morning or lugging my groceries back uphill.

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Green Bucks

It is common knowledge that a hindrance to healthy eating in the US is the “cheap and convenient factor” of fast food – and it’s costing us a lot! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cite that approximately 17% of children and adolescents aged 2—19 years are obese, and the prevalence of childhood obesity has almost tripled since 1980! According to the Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System, “1 of 7 low-income, preschool-aged children is obese. Even states with the lowest prevalence of obesity have counties where many low-income children are obese and at risk for chronic disease.”

The CDC also notes that one of the major factors in obesity is limited access to healthy, affordable foods. They say “Some people have less access to stores and supermarkets that sell healthy, affordable food such as fruits and vegetables, especially in rural, minority, and lower-income neighborhoods. Supermarket access is associated with a reduced risk for obesity. Choosing healthy foods is difficult for parents who live in areas with an overabundance of food retailers that tend to sell less healthy food, such as convenience stores and fast food restaurants.”

Based on this information we have come up with an idea that admittedly has many holes, but we hope that it at least sparks some thoughts on the subject of how we can combat the lure of cheap, easy (and potentially deadly) unhealthy food. We call it Green Bucks.

Grocers could choose to set up kiosks where shoppers can convert fast food coupons into Green Bucks, a currency that can only be used on healthful items like produce. The grocers would accept Green Bucks as a form of payment. Shoppers should get more for their money when they use Green Bucks. For instance one Green Buck could equal $2. That way, each time you receive a fast food coupon, you not only can exchange it for healthy food, but you also get more of it! Your coupon doubles in value should you make the healthy choice.

This kind of initiative would put forth a great image for the grocer (positive PR and community involvement) and create healthier cities. The Green Bucks program could be accepted at farmers markets, schools, restaurants (low cal options), or any other businesses who want to take part in the health food revolution and be seen as a philanthropic business and leader in their community.

As an added bonus, it may discourage fast food vendors from using price discounts as a marketing strategy to lure in low income customers.

It would also be extremely beneficial if major grocers put together outreach programs that would take their healthy produce and products to low income and rural areas that may have limited access to central flagship stores. For example, the grocer HEB could create HEBmobile, a traveling market that tours through lower income parts of town to make it more convenient for those communities to buy healthy foods.

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A different vein into the blood market

How did you find out that you could donate blood? Generally there’s a blood drive at school or work, sometimes one of your parents gives, or maybe you’ve received a transfusion and now know the value of giving. From our experience, though, it’s usually the “right thing” to do and still not enough people give to satisfy the demand. This seems to be generally due to a lack of education about the safety and efficacy of giving or an inconvenience to go to a donation center.

To fill that gap, we would propose that each time you go to the doctor, they ask if you would like to give blood during your visit. This would eliminate the inconvenience and people would be free to discuss the risks with the medical professional they trust most. This way we can keep the blood supply flowing without inconveniencing the patient or taking time out of a nurse’s work week to take blood at a donation center.

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Mothers’ Day Microsite

I am way tardy with this post, as Mothers’ Day was back on May 8, but on the bright side, that gives the idea more potential to come to life in 2012! Many adults today, like me, live miles (if not states or oceans) away from their parents, which makes holidays difficult to celebrate. Even if we can make it home for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or birthdays, Mothers’ Day is one of those holidays that most adults spend away from their parents.

So, we thought of an idea to bring a community together to celebrate Mothers’ Day virtually. is a microsite in which users can log in and upload positive Yo Mama jokes dedicated to their favorite mom. For example: “Yo mama’s cooking is so tasty, she’d make the Olson twins into plus size models.” I don’t claim to be a good comic… but I’m sure there are lots of wittier people out there that can do way better! Visitors to the site would be able to share, download, and send e-card “yo mamas” to celebrate all the great moms out there who could use a laugh, a smile, and a pat on the back. The yo mama with the most shares, downloads, and likes will receive a prize such as a bouquet of flowers, spa treatment, or gourmet gift basket that goes to the mom that the yo mama was dedicated to.

We think this could be a smart, effective effort by a flower delivery company such as or, since much of their business likely comes from long-distance relatives who send flowers or a gift to their loved ones on holidays. People who are using the internet as a media to engage with the yo mama community and are already digital-friendly enough to share and send user-generated ecards are likely to be the exact target the flower delivery companies are looking for. By sponsoring the microsite, they would be reaching out directly to their client base of people who find it convenient to order through the internet and are comfortable with buying on the web. The site would be especially popular with young people who might still live with or close enough to their parents to give them a gift in person, thus engaging them with their brand in a positive way that says they are a leader in the gifting industry before they move away from their parents’ home.

I’d love to see this happen in 2012… and I think my mom would too!

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