What do long-lasting lithium-ion batteries and oil-trapping sponges have in common? Both of these planet-saving innovations were created by environmental champion Dr. Mihri Ozkan, who will be speaking at The National Academy of Inventors (NAI) annual conference this summer.
Since the Industrial Revolution, humanity has brought inventions into the world heedless of their impact. For over a century, people invented with the sole purpose of improving society’s standard of living. But now, they are realizing that the standard of living means nothing on a dying planet.
In Phoenix, Arizona, on June 14-15, members of the NAI will harness their collective creativity to combat environmental damage. Dr. Ozkan, a climate activist and outspoken leader in green technology, will host these vital discussions, pointing innovation’s focus toward a sustainable future.
The Need For a Focus on Green Technology
Innovation and the environment have been at odds during the last century. Ironically, the inventions bringing the most benefit to society have also caused the most harm. For example, dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane — better known as DDT – was a chemical compound created to rid the world of malaria. This powerful pesticide earned Swiss chemist Paul Hermann Muller a Nobel prize in 1948. Farmers and gardeners used millions of pounds of DDT agriculturally, unaware of the cancer, infertility, and harmful effects on animal wildlife left in its wake.
Another innovation, Karl Benz’s gas-powered automobile, brought with it a fresh sense of independence and adventure. While no one at the time of its invention anticipated the novelty machine overtaking horse-drawn carriages, today’s car-centric world is largely to blame for a dependence on non-renewable fuels, air pollution, and habitat destruction through urban sprawl.
Finally, plastics were seen as a miracle invention just over a hundred years ago. However, the durability that makes them so valuable in millions of products has proven to become one of the greatest threats to the environment. In 2014, people produced 311 million tons of plastics, and that amount is predicted to double in the coming decades. Approximately one-third of this non-biodegradable material is thrown away after a single use. Incapable of fully breaking down, plastics will leak toxic chemicals into the ecosystem for hundreds of years.
The National Academy of Inventors is Shifting the Future of Innovation
NAI’s annual conference will host panels on an array of topics, but perhaps the most significant is innovation’s role in a sustainable future. The brightest minds from around the world are converging on Phoenix, Arizona, to talk about the intersection of innovation and the environment. They will confront innovation’s mistakes and brainstorm the path to a brighter future.
Dr. Ozkan, who will speak on the sustainability and innovation panel, was honored as an NAI Fellow in 2019. As a life-long environmental champion fighting climate change, she is committed to developing the green technologies the planet so desperately needs. Her research explores materials delivering low-cost and environmentally friendly energy storage. She thinks outside the box to power zero-emission vehicles and smart cities she sees in society’s future.
Despite these innovations, Dr. Ozkan knows she cannot shift the momentum of a century of invention on her own. She puts the challenge out to everyone on her Twitter feed: “Join the journey to a greener, bluer, and cleaner world.”
People are answering her call. At the NAI’s annual convention, Dr. Ozkan will lead the panel, but she won’t be searching for solutions alone. Amongst the 4,000 members of the National Academy of Inventors are forward-thinking scientific innovators and leaders boasting 44 Nobel Prizes and 63 US Medals of Science, Technology, and Innovation between them. They hold over 53,000 patents, and have started more than 13,000 licensed technologies and organizations. Many of these leaders in science, technology, and engineering have already registered for the annual conference, and more are signing up each day.
The game-changing inventions that will come out of collaboration and networking during the NAI convention are anyone’s guess. Innovators are already working to give the world lamps that brighten a room by transporting sunlight via fiberoptic cables, plastic roads that utilize millions of tons of environmental waste, plant-based packaging that is completely biodegradable, cool pavements that lower urban air temperature, portable solar flowers that track the sun’s motion, vertical plant walls that purify the air, and hydrogen-powered automobiles that boast zero emissions.
The stakes are high, but with so many great minds coming together, so are hopes. NAI’s focus on a sustainable future is a promising step toward repairing the relationship between innovation and the environment. For more information on attending this year’s event or on other featured topics in the panel discussions, readers can visit NAI’s website at https://academyofinventors.org.