Education Energy & Sustainability Health & Biohacking Science


Lawrence Berkeley National Lab—along with USAID’s Global Development Lab, The Lemelson Foundation, The Schmidt Family Foundation, Dalberg Global Development Advisors, The Good Company and OMG—has put together a list of challenges primed for Makers to solve. They call these “Top 50 Game-Changing Technologies for Defeating Global Poverty.” These are summarized in a 20-page list, and then fully explored in the full 600-page report. They shared this list “because the problems we all seek to address require urgent action,” and they invite the problem-solvers of the world (you, dear readers!) to “begin the conversation.”

The top challenge?

The single most needed breakthrough is a cost-effective, energy-efficient method for desalinating water. “Water will be the defining problem of the next 50 years,” [Shashi] Buluswar [director of LIGTT, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Institute for Globally Transformative Technologies] said. “It’s probably the single most important thing that needs to be solved.”

50-breakthroughsThe researchers analyzed each on its “Difficulty of deployment”: (Simple / Feasible / Complex / Challenging/ Extremely Challenging) vs. “Likely time to market” (from “Potential quick wins” to “The most difficult challenges: very complex technologies and daunting deployment hurdles.”) In another matrix, they arrange the challenges by commercial potential, in terms of how attractive these would be for industrialized and emerging markets. They are also categorized into nine areas:

  1. Global health
  2. Food security and agricultural development
  3. Education
  4. Human rights
  5. Gender equity
  6. Water
  7. Access to electricity
  8. Digital inclusion
  9. Resilience against climate change and environmental damage

Take a look at how you can help save the world—especially the bolded items that have Makers’ names written all over them! (But really, I could have bolded the whole list.)

Add a comment below if there’s a challenge you would have added to this list that you don’t see!

  1. Energy-efficient desalination
  2. Vaccine for HIV/AIDS.
  3. Vaccine for Malaria.
  4. Vaccine for TB.
  5. Smart electronic textbooks
  6. Biometric ID systems
  7. Affordable smartphones
  8. New generation of homes for the poor
  9. New fertilizer production systems
  10. Utility-in-a-box for solar mini-grids
  11. Short-course TB treatment
  12. Microbicides for HIV / HPV
  13. Long-lasting antiretroviral for HIV
  14. PrEP antiretrovirals for HIV prevention
  15. Complete cure for malaria
  16. Long-lasting chemical mosquito repellent
  17. Non-chemical spatial mosquito repellent/attractant
  18. Clinic-in-a-box
  19. Oxygen concentrator
  20. Automated multiplex immunoassays
  21. Point-of-care nucleic acid diagnostics
  22. Fully integrated diagnostic panels
  23. Off-grid vaccine refrigerator
  24. Thermo-stabilizing mechanism for vaccines
  25. Nutrient-dense infant weaning foods
  26. Off-grid refrigerator for households and farmers
  27. Low-cost refrigerated vehicle
  28. Precision agriculture systems for irrigation and fertilizer
  29. Low-cost shallow water drilling system
  30. Solar-powered irrigation pumps
  31. Herbicides for weeds
  32. Low-cost tilling machine
  33. Alternative to liquid nitrogen for preserving animal semen
  34. High-nutrient animal fodder
  35. Portable toolkit of extension workers and veterinarians
  36. Spatial on-farm pest repellent
  37. New seed varieties tolerant to drought and heat
  38. Wearable cameras
  39. Low-cost aerial vehicles for imagery
  40. DNA-based rape kit
  41. Wireless broadband technologies
  42. IoT for low-income populations
  43. Sustainable aquaculture systems
  44. Affordable homes resilient to extreme climate events
  45. Retrofit filter for vehicle exhaust
  46. Distributed sensors for environmental toxins
  47. Low-cost PV minigrid installation
  48. New generation of low-cost, energy efficient appliances
  49. New bulk storage technologies
  50. Mini-grid management solutions
  51. Low-cost family transport

Michelle, or Binka, makes . While at Maker Media, she oversaw publications, outreach, and programming for kids, families, and schools. Before joining Maker Media in 2007, she worked at the Exploratorium, in Mitchel Resnick’s Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, and as a curriculum designer for various publishers and educational researchers. When she’s not supporting future makers, including her two young sons, Binka does some making of her own, most often as a visual artist.

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