Miles Barr wields the power of invisibility and draws energy from the sun. George Ban-Weiss can make the temperature drop in an entire city. And Emily Cole harnesses light to transform matter.
The three 30-somethings aren’t members of Marvel’s latest squad of superheroes. They’re part of a different high-powered team: MIT’s 35 Innovators Under 35.
Every year, MIT Technology Review Magazine picks 35 young problem-solvers to feature on its list, which includes scientists, inventors or entrepreneurs working on groundbreaking tech advancements in fields such as medicine, computers, data mining and robotics.
At least three of the members of this year’s list — Barr, Ban-Weiss and Cole — are working on new ideas that could help fight global climate change.
Miles Barr, a 30-year-old entrepreneur, wants to turn every cell-phone screen into a solar panel without anyone noticing the difference.
He’s the cofounder of a company called Ubiquitous Energy, which is developing transparent — effectively invisible — solar panels. The technology’s implications for mobile devices are potentially transformative. No more battery-life worries: Every time you use your phone or tablet outside, it would be drawing power from the sun.
Barr also envisions larger-scale applications, like replacing entire windows with power-generating, transparent solar panels. The technology could mean less reliance on energy from fossil fuels, meaning less pollution overall.
George Ban-Weiss, a 33-year-old professor in the University of Southern California’s school of engineering, came up with a simple idea to cool down Los Angeles: Paint roofs silver.
Black roofs soak up rays from the sun, making buildings hotter and heating up the air. Cool roofs — ones that reflect sunlight rather than absorb it — can make a measurable difference in the temperature in a city.
After Ban-Weiss presented his findings on cool roofs to the mayor of Los Angeles, the city passed a law requiring cool roofs for all new or refurbished roofs on residential buildings. It’s a change that could mean people in L.A. will have to run their air conditioners a little less, and the city will feel even cooler.
Excess carbon dioxide is making the planet hotter. But the harmful gas could be put to good use: making plastics, so says Emily Cole. The 31-year-old is the chief science officer at a company called Liquid Light, which is working on ways to convert CO2 into more useful chemicals.
Cole has helped develop technology that uses light to trigger reactions converting carbon dioxide into over 30 different chemicals. Liquid Light is focusing on ethylene glycol, which is used in plastics manufacturing, as it’s first commercial product.
Click here to meet the rest of MIT’s 35 Innovators Under 35.