As a PhD student in biochemistry at Oxford University, Daniel Perez often stumbles on the roots of incredible science. But a huge portion of patented discoveries haven’t been commercialized, often because the inventors don’t understand market applications. So he decided to expand the pool of minds brainstorming on these technologies. All they’d have to do is use their marbles and devise applications for new and old ideas. Makeshift talked to him about his web platform, Marblar, and using space lasers in traffic signals.
Makeshift: How often is old technology copied, renewed, recreated?
DP: Not often enough! Very sad actually. That’s the whole reason Marblar exists. This can happen more frequently, and often occurs by serendipity, like the famous story of the Post-It Note. But too often, if a discovery is made, like weak glue at 3M, and the application isn’t immediately obvious or doesn’t solve the problem you initially intended it to solve, it will probably be forgotten. Unless you get lucky. So that’s the whole mission of Marblar, to make that the rule and not the exception. Ideas like delivering advertising via human touch or creating a tablet for the blind are bubbling away.
So you’re encouraging science to trickle down to the general population?
Marblar is pulling back the veil and torching the velvet ropes that have too long prevented the population at large from participate in science. As science has expanded, it’s also become more exclusionary and niche. You could be a biologist and not understand what your fellow biologist is up to because you’re each so specialized. What we do is break down the science into ways that non- experts could understand and build upon. So while one of our inventions might be a new laser out of NASA developed to assess the Martian atmosphere, we want non-laser physicists to “get it” and understand its high-level features so they can find new ways to use it—in traffic signals maybe, or perhaps in industrial settings.
What can we find in your archives?
We’ve recently lined up more than USD 500 million worth of technologies from NASA, the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute in South Korea, and the University of Pennsylvania. They range from flying robots to new materials and sensors. More coming!
How far back do these inventions go?
The inventions on our site are not that old. They are all, however, built upon innovation that has occurred over decades and centuries. For instance, some shuttle technology from NASA may now be used to transport natural gas. Sometimes the best products are made when you look at technology in a new way.
What have you learned?
As an aside, I’ve learned relationships are everything in this world. I cannot emphasize that enough. Getting to know people from across the gamut: entrepreneurs, managers, professors, writers, VCs, scientists, interns, even janitors. They can all teach you something. I’ve always been shameless about trying to learn from others and being genuinely interested in their story—although then again, I have an insatiable curiosity about people.