08.12.20

Latest digital edition of Fast Company (SA) is out

BY Fast Company < 1 MINUTE READ

Amid all the negative and depressing developments around the world, there are still reasons to be hopeful. In this second edition of Fast Company (SA) digital magazine we would like to refocus the attention of our readers on a better future, which is currently being shaped by women in our society.

As industries experience health and economic disruptions, we pay attention to industries that are emerging out of the crisis. We are witnessing innovation in action as the Next Economy is taking shape. I’m hopeful about the future because I’ve spoken to women who see beyond our current circumstances. I’ve also observed Women Innovations that are currently under development. They are preparing us for the new normal and reshaping our world and systems to enable our society to adapt.

I must, however, admit that there are not enough women in the tech and innovation ecosystem to drive this change. As we were planning this publication, we asked ourselves, where are successful women tech founders?

Towards the end of August 2020 we will host a discussion to explore this topic further. A recorded version of this discussion will be featured on this digital magazine. In this edition of Fast Company (SA) magazine we would like to begin a process of documenting challenges and solutions to enabling successful women tech founders. At the same time we would like to document innovations by women in our society. We are inspired by Margot Lee Shetterly, the author of a book titled Hidden Figures, which highlights the role of black women who made Nasa’s space missions possible. To address the shortage of successful women tech founders in South Africa, the local tech ecosystem will have to address structural issues that are contributing factors to this situation… Read more…

08.11.20

You can still get hired during tough economic times

BY Fast Company 4 MINUTE READ

Unemployment is at an all-time high and right now, it’s harder to get hired than years and decades past. But all hope is not lost. There are ways to get noticed and separate yourself, and to get the job, even when job openings are scarce.

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First, consider these encouraging statistics: According to a recent study by SHRM (the Society for Human resource Management), among 2,278 members, 17% of employers were expanding their businesses and 13% were hiring. In addition, according to its annual global CEO survey, PwC found 74% of CEOs are concerned about the availability of skills in their respective workforces.

The bottom line: Companies need great employees with strong skills to grow their businesses. Particularly those who are unafraid to take an unconventional and bold approach.

So how can you get hired when it seems no one is hiring? Establishing a strong start to your process is key, along with finding the best ways to leverage your network, your creativity, and your distinctive skill sets.

Here are six ways to get hired during an economic downturn.

SET THE BAR HIGH (AND KEEP IT THERE)

The fact is during tough times, you have to be among the best in your area, keep your skills fresh, and maintain the strength of your capabilities. As the job market has contracted, employers have more choices, so they can select the cream-of-the-crop candidates. There will still be a range of entry points for positions: entry-level, midterm, or senior. However, wherever you are in your career progression, stay on top of your area of expertise. Read within your field. Learn the latest software that will keep you relevant. Develop the newest skills critical to the type of role you want to land.

Ensuring your knowledge is cutting edge will set you apart in terms of what you can immediately offer to a company. It will also demonstrate your determination and thirst for learning—two characteristics which are always attractive to employers.

COMMIT REAL ENERGY INTO YOUR NETWORK

Networking is one of the nonnegotiable’s if you’re going to get hired. It’s critical to tap into the hidden job market and nurture connections that will introduce you to hiring managers. Reach out to people who you know well, but also focus on building links with people who are new acquaintances. Known as “weak ties,” people you know less well can inform you about a new opening simply because they have exposure outside of you and your typical, more condensed network.

And finally, be intentional about deepening and expanding the relationships within your network.

TAKE ON THAT INVENTIVE MINDSET

The number of traditional roles may have declined, but your capacity of invention should now. Consider recommending a new role, a contribution, or a skill set you believe the company needs but may not have thought of themselves. A manufacturing company may need an expert in plant layout to reduce virus transmission, or a retail store may need someone who can innovate creative ways to welcome customers while social distancing.

Another way to get in the door may be to offer the company the opportunity to give you a test run. A friend of mine offered to work for free for eight weeks so the company could test her skills and her fit. Another friend offered to do a salaried job on a commission-only basis for three months to prove herself to the company. While these strategies will generally work better with smaller, less formal companies, they may be worth a try at even larger firms. In each of my friends’ cases, they were ultimately hired by companies who were enthusiastic about their skills and their futures with each organization.

ARTICULATE YOUR FIT

When you talk to a potential employer, tell your story in a compelling way. Resist the temptation to just go through a list of your previous roles. According to Angela Burke, president of Palladian West, an executive recruiting firm, it is especially effective to pull out themes from your experience.

Perhaps you’re a skilled problem-solver or someone who is especially organized or the one person who can energize a team. Highlight these kinds of strengths across your experiences. Burke also coaches clients on solution-thinking: “You are a solution, [so] consider the problems which need solutions, and how you can set yourself apart as the best solution.”

To make the strongest impression on hirers, make sure to stay consistent. You may want to step beyond your current skill set and seek a job that you will grow into, but resist this temptation. In a tight job market, it is best to play to your existing strengths. Deborah Rousseau, lead talent acquisition partner for Poly a telecommunications company, says “You’ll be competing with people who already have skills in the area where you may be trying to grow, so this isn’t the time to try and stretch to a job beyond your current skill set. Instead, emphasize your existing core competencies.”

ATTRACT RECRUITERS WITH AN EXACTING RÉSUMÉ

In every role, you’ll be a member of a team and how you play will matter. Burke says, “Think about the team you’ll join and market yourself based on what you bring to the team and how you will add something unique and valuable.” In addition to being specific about the team, also be specific about the role. Rousseau says, “Customize your résumé for each role by highlighting your relevant experience in a summary or as the top bullets in your work history. You can also identify the specific position to which you’re applying at the top. Recruiters are moving quickly, so make it easy for them to see the match between your résumé and the job they’re seeking to fill.”

DEMONSTRATE YOU CAN ROLL WITH THE PUNCHES

The pandemic has forced a reset in the market overall and for many businesses. The study by SHRM found 10% of employers are in the process of beginning new initiatives; however, the study by PwC found 55% of CEOs believe they can’t innovate successfully and 44% cannot pursue new business opportunities because their people lack the skills. This creates the need for entrepreneurial and problem-solving skills among candidates. In addition, because no one has been through a pandemic before, many companies report they especially need innovation and creative skills. Be sure you highlight these in your experience.

On your résumé and in conversation with your contacts, give examples of how you’ve solved a thorny problem or found an unexpected solution in a difficult circumstance. Show how you’ve learned throughout your career and continuously contributed in fresh ways to your previous roles.

There’s no doubt about it, this is a rough time to find a new job. But companies are hiring, and jobs exist for those who are able to explore and chase after them effectively. Be excellent at what you do and invent opportunities to contribute while highlighting the skills that matter most right now. Stay connected and network brilliantly; stay visible and keep to the course.

Your determination and grit will be important once you’re hired for a new job, so express these characteristics in your search and success will follow.

08.05.20

Doctors could soon track your health just by drawing on your skin

BY Fast Company 3 MINUTE READ

Sensors placed on your skin are powerful tools for doctors. They can measure your temperature, hydration, heartbeat, and muscle strain. The problem is that their hardware can be bulky, invasive, and expensive. Wearing an EKG tracker can feel like mummifying your body in wires.

But a new technology out of the University of Houston, led by Associate Professor Cunjiang Yu, solves all of these problems. His team has developed “drawn-on-skin” electronics. Quite literally, they have demonstrated that you can take a ballpoint pen, fill it with a special semiconductor ink containing elements like silver, and draw specific diagnostic sensors right on your body. These sensors get their energy from a nearby wireless battery pack, and send/receive data via Bluetooth.

You may think you’ve seen this idea before. Similar-looking, gold-based circuit tattoos have been demonstrated for years, which stick on your skin to serve as a form of electronic identification, a touch-skin controller for another device, or a means to monitor various aspects of your health. But as Yu—who hails from the University of Illinois where that first tattoo technology was developed—explains, the very act of drawing sensors, as opposed to preprinting them, comes with all sorts of benefits.

First and foremost, applying this advanced technology is decidedly low-tech. Heck, it’s easier than using a Spirograph. To apply, the stencil is taped onto the skin. The doctor (or even a patient) traces its line with a ballpoint pen filled with special ink. And after five minutes of drying time, the ink adheres to the skin and the stencil is removed.

Drawn directly onto the skin (without forcing you to shave first), that ink fills the unique crevasses of your body, tracking data with a level of fidelity that preprinted circuits can’t. “Every person is different,” says Yu. And accommodating these differences means that the drawn electronics fit perfectly, stretching with your skin, and they can easily last a week at a time while resisting sweat. Then if part flakes off, you can draw over it again, like you’d fix a sketch on paper. There’s no need to acquire a whole replacement tattoo.

As Yu explains, the breakthrough here is not just the ink (which could be formulated in all sorts of ways, he argues), but the entire interface of application, which needs neither expertise, nor a clean room to apply. So Yu imagines that you could get a special pen and stencil shipped to your home to draw on yourself, or you could get a quick sketch placed on your arm at the gym to measure vitals while exercising. Obviously, it’s a technology that would be comfortable in the developing world, too, where doctors and specialised equipment can be scarce. The cost? “Let’s say a dollar,” Yu laughs, before clarifying—maybe it would cost a few dollars for advanced circuits. In any case, the product is extremely cheap to manufacture.

But can these sensors do anything all that useful? Indeed, they can. We’ve seen that constantly monitoring someone’s temperature can spot COVID-19 outbreaks early, and Yu has proven that, when applied to wounds, his system can send out electrical impulses that speed up the healing process. Muscle strain monitors can be used to track someone’s gait and analyze their physiology for training or rehabilitation. And the medical industry is increasingly recognizing hydration monitoring as an important tool, especially for the elderly in hospitals, as up to 17% of elderly people admitted for dehydration will die in care. In any case, draw-on electronics offer the capability of advanced wearable electronics with the promise of lower costs and greater customisation. Ink-based electronics, drawn by your own hand on your own body, are the definition of democratised technology.

Since publishing the research last week, Yu has already received calls from several parties interested in licensing the technology and co-developing it further. Hopefully, it can come to market soon, and stays affordable in the process.


Article originally published on fastcompany.com.

08.04.20

These 3D printed tiles are helping restore devastated coral reefs

BY Fast Company 3 MINUTE READ

Terra-cotta ceramics have been used for thousands of years, but a particularly 21st-century application gives the material an entirely new purpose.

Marine scientists and architects from the Swire Institute of Marine Science (SWIMS) of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) and its Robotic Fabrication Lab of the faculty of architecture, respectively, worked together to print 3D terra-cotta tiles that will act as artificial reefs. The result is a mesmerizing, organic swirl of line and negative space that reads like a burnt orange topographic map—and mimics the natural patterns of the coral itself.

Coral presence has declined in Hong Kong over the past several years, according to Green Power, a Hong Kong-based environmental group. In fact, the coral population has declined 80% in one area, Double Island, Sai Kung, over the past decade. This is troubling since coral reefs are some of the most diverse and valuable ecosystems on earth; they “support more species per unit area than any other marine environment,” including millions of species yet to be discovered, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Green Power attributes the decline to a combination of global warming, pollution, net fishing, and water sports. Researchers at HKU also cite bioerosion (gradual deterioration of coral habitat), coral bleaching, and partial mortality events (basically the rapid dying off of a species over a short time) due to red tide in 2015 and 2016, according to team member Vriko Yu. This is where man-made or artificial reefs come in—they help restore lost coral populations by reintroducing an environment amenable to regrowth—and they’ve been made of everything from purposefully submerged shipwrecks to cement sculptures.

[Photo: AFCD/courtesy HKU]
[Photo: AFCD/courtesy HKU]

The robotic 3D printing process offers unique advantages in the design and production of artificial reefs, according to team leader Christian Lange. It makes production easier and more efficient, by allowing the team to create large pieces in a short amount of time. It also enabled the team to make tiles with different designs and functions, something that wouldn’t be possible with a typical mold. To do this, the team 3D printed terra-cotta clay into the reef tile pattern and fired it to 1125 degrees Celcius to produce the 128 tiles they’ve made so far. Each tile is just shy of two feet in diameter. Why terra-cotta? It’s highly porous with “nice surface micro-texture” for marine organisms to latch on to, says team member Dave Baker, and an eco-friendly alternative to conventional materials such as cement or metal, the HKU team says.

“Though these tiles could be produced with other methods, such as making a double-sided mold, it would be quite complex to do since the design of the tile is very three-dimensional,” Lange says. “3D printing offers the advantage to produce objects and parts much more cost-effectively. But the most powerful advantage of it is that it could print each object with a different design without increasing the cost.” This way, they can design tiles that have different functions without incurring significant additional costs.

While all the coral tiles are identical in this pilot study, the team will use different designs in the next iteration to figure out how they affect the species. The designs can also be specific to the environment and underwater conditions where they are placed; for instance, the team designed these tiles to prevent sedimentation buildup, a major problem in Hong Kong waters.

And since the tiles interlock, they appear as though the ocean floor has been retiled and renovated. It has in some sense. The reef tile design provides a “structurally complex foundation,” according to an HKU statement, which gives coral fragments lots of nooks and crannies to anchor onto, and prevents sediment buildup, which is a major threat to corals, they say.

The team placed the reef tiles seeded with coral fragments over about a 430-square-foot area across three sites within Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park in Hong Kong this past July. Researchers will monitor coral growth on the tiles over the next two years. This is just the beginning of the project: The team plans to develop new tile designs and further expand seabed restoration in the area.


fastcompany.com

08.03.20

Why the car of the future is more like a Lego set than a flying vehicle

BY Fast Company 4 MINUTE READ

Some days I dream about driving a zippy two-seater. Others, I long for a camping-friendly family van. And every once in a while, I wish I had a pickup truck that could handle the freight of a Home Depot run. So like most suburban stereotypes, that means I’ve settled for a high-horsepower crossover, a vehicle that does all of these jobs with mediocrity.

But what if there was another way? What if you could buy a car that transformed from car to van to truck, à la Inspector Gadget? That’s the promise of the eBussy, a vehicle that looks something like a VW bus crossed with a USB charger, by the German vehicle manufacturer Electric Brands. Starting at approximately R 320 000 and topping out at R 570 000, it’s a completely customizable modular electric vehicle. You can configure its seats and storage space when you buy it. Or you can swap out those details later by hand, when you bring it home. The eBussy launches in the U.K. next year, assuming that Electric Brands, which has only built scooters to date, can pull it off.

The eBussy offers two styles of chassis—one typical, and one with a higher profile for off-roading—and 10 different body styles. By mixing and matching options, you can create a two-seater or a four-seater with a bench or individual seating and battery capacity that can vary from 200 kilometres to 595 kilometres. The actual vehicle you build can be a pickup truck or a cargo truck or a van or a Jeep-like open-air vehicle or a camper complete with a bed, fridge, TV, freshwater tank, and sink. You can add a solar roof to charge out in the wild, and on every model, you can actually go so far as to slide the steering wheel from one side of the car to the other, because the drive system is fly-by-wire (or controlled by computers rather than mechanical inputs—just like on commercial jets).

Each of these configurations changes your purchase price, but even after you buy the design, you aren’t stuck with it permanently. According to the company, you can change it yourself (details TBD). But you’d need to own multiple components, such as cargo room or seating, to swap them out.

“The eBussy was developed according to the ‘Lego principle’ . . . you can adapt your eBussy easily and quickly and as often as you want to your usage needs,” the company explains on its site. “You do not need any special tools for this, you do not have to have worked at NASA, you just need some help to remove one module and put another on it.”

Image: eBussy
Image: eBussy

How can one car manufacturer build so many different vehicles on a single platform? Electric drive trains make it possible. While combustion engines take up a massive block of space in a car, electric vehicles hide tiny motors in each wheel, with small battery packs squeezed in wherever they can fit. Electric vehicles on the road today are still mirroring gas car aesthetics, but they don’t need to.

The eBussy’s design is feasible, and it’s easy to imagine the auto industry copying its approach. More and more, major auto brands are agreeing on shared platforms, with engines, battery technologies, and chassis used between companies in the interest of lowering costs through scaled production. In other words, auto manufacturers are already playing Lego with design, putting what we perceive as unique cars on top of nearly identical foundations.

Furthermore, we’re seeing that consumers demand customization, and the auto industry is just beginning to see how one car can be sold to offer diverse experiences. The new Ford Bronco, brought out of retirement earlier this month, was heralded by many auto critics for its diverse configuration options. Instead of selling you a car, Ford is offering its Broncos as a line of experiences, dubbed names such as Badlands, Outer Banks, and Wildtrak. Each of these Broncos is tweaked for how you’ll use it. One has a waterproof, marine-grade interior that can get as soaked as you like. Another offers suspension that’s thrilled to climb through mounds of mud. Yes, inside all this adventure branding is the sort of tiered entry-to-premium pricing model we’ve come to expect from auto manufacturers, but it’s not quite as simple as good, better, best. The Bronco urges you to specialise toward specific adventures.

Image: eBussy

eBussy offers even more customization options than the Bronco, while also offering buyers the option to change their configuration on their own after purchase.

Studying the eBussy’s design options, which also offer pull-out drawers for small cargo, it seems that this EV is being designed in part for those last-mile delivery services from companies like Amazon, and in part to any mainstream consumer who wants to buy a van, car, or truck. That approach makes the eBussy’s potential addressable market more or less unlimited, in theory. While preorders are open now for buyers in the U.K., eBussy will still need to prove that it’s capable of actually building not just a great electric vehicle, but a great van, a great truck, and a great camper, too.


Article originally published on fastcompany.com

This work scheduling strategy can save you hours per week

BY Fast Company 2 MINUTE READ

It’s common knowledge that multitasking isn’t effective. The brain takes extra time shifting between tasks, which can take longer than it would have if you did each task by itself. What if you looked at your workweek in the same light? Rahul Vohra, founder and CEO of the email platform Superhuman, found that mixing tasks in a day can lead to an ineffective way to run your week.

“Anyone who has been in a managerial role will run into this problem,” he says. “Their one-on-one [meetings] will be randomly dispersed throughout the week, team meetings happen whenever everybody happens to be free, and there is little time to focus and do deep work. This is the complete opposite of running a company with intentionality.”

Instead, Vohra suggests implementing a staggered calendar, a method that everyone at Superhuman follows:

HOW IT WORKS
Mondays are reserved for one-on-one meetings, and team meets are held on Tuesdays and/or Wednesdays. Simple, but effective.

“If you run a team, do your team meeting on Wednesdays and stack all your one-on-ones on Tuesday,” says Vohra. “If your reports run teams, ask them to do their team meetings on Tuesdays and stack all their one-on-ones on Mondays. And if their reports run teams, then stagger this whole thing by another day.”

THE BENEFITS
Taking a staggered approach to calendars has a number of benefits. First, information and knowledge can move through the company quickly and efficiently.

“A small company can react and fix things, but as companies scale, information moves slowly,” says Vohra. “If there is a problem on the front line, it can get discussed in a one-on-one on Monday. If necessary, it can be resolved by leadership on Wednesday. It takes at most two days for information to travel like this.”

Another benefit is that problems are often solved along the way, saving a leader’s time. “For example, in your Wednesday team meeting you might hear, ‘This problem came up on Monday, we discussed it as a team on Tuesday, and here’s the solution we’d like to go with,’” says Vohra. “By the time things reach me, they usually arrive with a solution.”

When you stagger meetings, you leave days open for deep work. Leaders will have Monday, much of Wednesday, and all of Thursday and Friday free to do the tasks that only they can do and which requires their full concentration. While the calendar is designed for C-level leaders, Vohra says the entire company will benefit with days freed up to do deep work.

If a fire comes up on an off-day, determine if it truly is a fire or if it can be delegated. “I estimate that [a staggered calendar] adds 10 hours of productive time back to my week,” says Vohra. “It gives me days back, but it also takes care of those five to 10 minutes of downtime that are between meetings when they’re spread throughout the week. Those minutes eat into the day. You don’t have any of that downtime when you keep to this schedule.”


Article originally posted on fastcompany.com

07.29.20

4 expert tips for businesses to build an environmentally and socially responsible brand

BY Fast Company 3 MINUTE READ

The V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, in partnership with Platform Creative Agency, has launched a new initiative that celebrates the creativity and ingenuity of the makers behind some of South Africa’s most inspiring projects, products, ideas and experiences. The initiative features 100 Beautiful Things, all of which are designed with either compassion, sustainability, future-thinking or local essence at their core, with some being recognised for simply, just being beautiful.

In recent years, we have seen a rise in sustainable business practices, as people become increasingly aware of their impact on the planet. While in the past sustainability was seen as a “nice to have” or an element that provides a competitive edge to a brand, today it has become an integral part of the way businesses are expected to operate. This theme was recently explored during the third episode of a six-part webinar series, hosted by the V&A Waterfront as an extension of their 100 Beautiful Things campaign.

The Sustainable Design episode discussed sustainability as the new currency of business and a driver of open and transparent business practices. Here the panel, made up of respected experts on the topic, discussed ways to build a successful brand with sustainability in mind.

Their discussions culminated in a number of insights, with four key tips being shared to help businesses build an environmentally and socially responsible brand: 

 1. YOU CANNOT RELY ON SUSTAINABILITY ALONE TO SELL A PRODUCT
Jasper Eales, Co-founder of Sealand Gear, a company which specialises in the creation of upcycled bags and apparel, explained that an entrepreneur in this day and age cannot rely on sustainability alone when building a successful brand.

“Create something that serves a purpose”, he explains. “Sustainability should be the base ingredient and interwoven into the brand DNA, however it has to be functional and look good too.”

 2. CHANGE YOUR PERCEPTION OF WASTE
Panellists recommend that businesses should look at the world around them through a different lens in order to change their perception of waste. When waste products are reframed as a medium or a material, it opens up endless opportunities to create.

Davis Ndungu, Founder of Recycled Flip Flop Sculptures, is a great example of this. Davis started out his career as an artist using wood as a medium. However, when wood became too expensive, he had to seek out alternative low-cost materials. He started gathering old discarded flip flops, turning them into beautiful animal sculptures.

“In times of crisis there are always opportunities,” explains Davis. “Follow your gut and create something that you believe in. Keep the end user in mind, but don’t create something just because you think it will sell.”

3. KEEP IN LINE WITH YOUR CORE VALUES
Most panellists agreed that sustainability should be woven into a business’s founding principles, acting as a cornerstone to guide their on-going behaviour.

For example, Jasper credits the success of Sealand Gear to the fact that they remained true to their original brand values, which were developed five years earlier. According to him, a successful brand needs to have a strong story to tell. He recommends that businesses should have a thorough understanding of their business identity and core values and not to lose sight of who they are and what defines them,

 4. USE YOUR BRAND FOR GOOD
“A powerful brand has a voice and an opportunity to reach a large audience. Tell your story, make it an informative one that educates people along the way,” recommends Jasper. According to him, it is essential to build a brand that is aspirational and use it as platform to educate people on being environmentally responsible. 

 Alexis Grosskopf, Co-founder of OceanHub Africa, a platform for ocean-conscious entrepreneurs, notes that, because sustainable business practices have become expected as standard, there are no longer grants to assist start-ups based purely on these principles However, he claims that making these principles core to a brand’s purpose and operations, adds value to its overall story and identity, which will help to draw in private investors.

The next 100 Beautiful Things episode, Future Thinking: The evolution of the food industry, will be taking place on 30 July. This webinar explores shifting mind-sets, being agile and pivoting businesses; an insight into the future of creativity and innovation within the South African food industry. 

Twitter contractors reportedly used internal tools to spy on celebrities

BY Fast Company < 1 MINUTE READ

Former Twitter security employees have alleged that some of the company’s contractors have used tricks to spy on some of the social media giant’s biggest users, including Beyoncé. That’s according to a report from Bloomberg, which spoke with four former Twitter security employees. The allegations come just weeks after Twitter suffered a major security breach that saw dozens of high-profile accounts taken over by scammers.

According to Bloomberg, two of the former Twitter security employees revealed that in 2017 and 2018 some Twitter contractors “made a kind of game out of creating bogus help-desk inquiries” that enabled them to spy on the accounts of celebrities. By doing this, the contractors were able to access the celebrities’ personal data, including their approximate location. One of the celebrity accounts that were reportedly accessed was of superstar Beyoncé.

The former Twitter security employees told Bloomberg that contractors found workarounds using Twitter’s internal tools and processes to glean information about politicians, brands, and even former lovers, in addition to celebrities. The former employees allege that Twitter’s board of directors was informed about the unauthorised insider access to accounts repeatedly between 2015 to 2019, yet their concerns were “deferred for other priorities,” Bloomberg says.

It’s unknown what personal data was gleaned by the rogue contractors other than approximate location data. A Twitter spokesperson challenged the former employees’ accounts of the alleged contractor security breaches, saying the company has tools that allow it to “stay ahead of threats as they evolve.”


Article originally published on fastcompany.com

07.28.20

This seaweed extract outperforms Covid-19 drug remdesivir in the lab

BY Fast Company 2 MINUTE READ

Remdesivir was the first major pharmaceutical breakthrough of the coronavirus pandemic: Research has found it’s able to help some patients recover faster from severe cases of the illness and may make it more likely that they survive. But a new study suggests that an extract from seaweed may outperform the drug.

The extract, called RPI-27—found in the same type of seaweed that you might eat in sushi—helps trap the virus before it can infect human cells. Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute tested the extract in the cell studies, along with the blood thinner heparin, which has a similar effect.

When someone is infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, a spike-shaped protein in the virus attaches to a receptor on a human cell and then inserts its genetic material. But if another protein with the right fit is already attached to the receptor, the virus can attach to it instead, trapping the virus in place as it harmlessly degrades.

“You’ve effectively blocked infection by serving as a decoy,” says Jonathan Dordick, the lead researcher and a professor of chemical and biological engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “Effectively, it interferes with and it pulls away the virus, and therefore the virus can’t bind to the surface of the cell. Once it’s latched on to by these compounds—these seaweed extracts or heparin—it likely decomposes and it would not be effective.”

In cell tests in the lab, RPI-27 was nearly 10 times as active as remdesivir at blocking infection, meaning a much smaller dose was needed to inhibit infection. Heparin was slightly less active than remdesivir but could also be used in treatment. Separate tests showed that the compounds worked without causing any damage to the cells. The researchers are now beginning the next step of animal trials.

But it should be generally safe: “Anytime you eat seaweed in something like sushi, you’re going to be taking in these compounds,” he says. Because only a small concentration is needed, and the compound is found in edible seaweed, a treatment could get FDA approval fairly quickly because the substance is considered GRAS, or generally recognized as safe.

Heparin is usually given through an IV, because it’s used to treat blood clots. But an IV treatment could pose other problems for patients. However, it could also be given through an inhaler directly into the lungs, which Dordick says has been tested and shown to have little to no effect on bleeding. The researchers are now talking to clinical partners about potentially testing a nasal spray using heparin, since it’s thought that COVID-19 infections often begin in the nasal passages.

“You could dissolve this in saline, just like any other nasal spray,” he says. “You could just take some of that prophylactically several times a day. We would expect that it would bind very well to the virus, essentially inactivating it. And that would be a way that would prevent it from ultimately making it down into the lungs.” The seaweed extract could potentially be used in a similar way. Like remdesivir, which had already progressed through several trials for Ebola before pivoting to COVID-19, it’s helpful that heparin is already an approved drug. “These are the fastest ways to get things to the patient,” he says.


Article originally published on fastcompany.com

Dyson releases more free science experiments for kids in quarantine

BY Fast Company < 1 MINUTE READ

We’re about 10,000 months into quarantine at this point, and as a parent, I’ll be honest: That clever, optimistic, “activity dad” in my house retired on week two. Don’t you dare look in my cabinets; there’s not a pipe cleaner to be found.

Luckily, Dyson—yes, the Dyson we know for vacuum cleaners and insanely engineered flat irons—has you covered. After releasing 44 science experiments to teach engineering in April, the James Dyson Foundation has followed up with more free curricula for kids. Now, you can download a Student Pack (pdf), which challenges kids to learn about pollution, air quality, and engineering.

Image: Dyson

The pack includes eight worksheets, and a series of experiments that you can follow along with on video. At the end of the work, children are challenged to build an air filter of their own.

If they fail at the task, I assume they are meant to abandon engineering, take up a whole other career, save their money, and eventually buy the real thing from Dyson. But if putting my kids to work on a cardboard air filter keeps them from shouting about, well, just about anything for 15 minutes, we’ll deem it a win.