Physicist’s legacy of creative courage is still inspiring

In 1905 a young man was working as a clerk in a Swiss patent office, having failed to earn an academic position after earning his Ph D. He was driven by a thirst for knowledge and a creative mind courageous enough to explore all options to solving a problem, even if most ended in failure. That year he went on to write papers describing the relationship between matter and energy (E=mc²), one on Brownian motion which suggested the existence of molecules and atoms, the idea that light consisted of particles called photon, and the idea that space and time is interwoven which is considered a foundational principle of astronomy. This young man’s ideas led him to become our most famous physicist, Albert Einstein. His creative academic courage has led him to inspire the current generation of innovators in our high tech world.

Harsha Chigurupati, a scientist from India, saw the damage taking acetaminophen could have on your liver. He spent 12 years creating a compound to protect liver and DNA damage from drugs like acetaminophen (Tylenol). This compound which could also shield the liver from damage from alcohol use is now being tested.

In Austin, Texas a restaurant called Vox Table is using science to maximize your dining experience. When you sit down to eat the waiter provides you two test strips to dab on your tongue. You then tell the waiter what you taste. The slips contain the chemicals PTC and Thiourea. You sensitivity to them puts you in the categories of super tasters(25% of the population, average tasters (50%), and non-tasters (25%). The meal suggestions would be milder meal options accompanied by fruiter wines and less hoppy beers. Non-tasters would be recommended more seasoned and garnished seletions. Studies have found that women and Asians tend to be in super tasters category.

Employers are beginning to use artificial intelligence technology to observe facial movements, vocabulary, and body language of those they interview. They are comparing the results with those of their best employees, choosing candidates that have the desired characteristics/responses. This process in susceptible to many biases starting with employees you choose as your models.

A study in 2016 found that up to a third of fish caught and sold in the market were mislabeled. Sam Barrett, a fish distributer in Montauk, New Jersey is creating a system to remedy that. At the time fish are caught, they are put in a box and tagged with a bar code and a powered geo-tracking system. Upon purchase you would have that bar code on the label where you could access on-line the journey of the fish from fishing boat to market, ensuring no mistakes were made. A similar tracking system is being made for Turkeys, which will be tagged individually on the farm. This will allow the consumer to see which farm each turkey was raised, even allowing the consumer to review the conditions on the farm and any food safety violations.

Einstein was known for his careful experimental analysis, academic courage, and imaginative analysis and solutions. As technology advances, creative approaches will continually be explored to apply new knowledge and innovations to all aspects of our lives. What imaginative applications will be next?

Steve Patchin is director of Career Services at Michigan Technological University.

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