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5 Key Questions when Building your Business

A successful business is made up of 3 interdependent and critical parts, a great idea, great people, and access to capital..If any of those parts are missing chances are that your company won't acheive it's potential..

So how do you go about developing the team and getting the capital or partnerships that can give you access to resources? The key is in being able to communicate with potential funders, collaborators, or key employees in a way that helps them understand what you're doing but more importantly gets them excited about the potential of your idea.

Before you go out and stomp for money take a some time to answer the following questions about your business:

  1. What is the problem you are trying to solve?
  2. How big a problem is this? What is the potential market size?
  3. Why is your solution the best alternative?
  4. What traits and assets increase the chance of successfully creating the solution and getting it to market? What are the risks?
  5. Why should they invest their time and/or money with you as the manager?

Talk to mentors, friends, and other contacts you trust to get feedback on the ideas your presenting. Making a mistake with them will save you a lot of pain later. Having clear answers to these questions will go a long way in helping you understand your buiness and where the soft spots in your plan are. Once you understand that you can take the correct steps to help create a package that can get people to start talking to you.

Miller's Experiment on How Life Began

In 1953 Stanley Miller (a graduate student at University of Chicago) convinced his advisor, Harold Urey, to go along with an experiment simulating how life arose on Earth. Miller created a closed system in which he mimicked the early Earth environment (or, what they had believed it to be back then). This concoction consisted of ammonia, methane, hydrogen gas, and water vapor. He next sent electric charges through the system to simulate lightning storms (also thought to be common on prehistoric Earth). After a few days Miller noticed that the consistency of the mixture had changed and now a brown gooey substance was present all over the inside of his reaction vessel. This goo was found to contain amino acids which are vital in the creation of proteins, a key component to life. Miller had just shown the first step to the creation of life!

Of course it does not necessarily get simpler from here on out. How could these amino acids aggregate to form a larger complex molecule which would eventually (after many steps in time) develop into an organized cell? No one knows. It is believed to be a long process, possibly full of random catalyzing events (such as a lightning storm) for which the results of which culminate in an organized cell.

Miller’s experiment soon became very famous in the debate of how life arose on Earth. Since then, many contradicting theories about what the early Earth environment was like (was it a soupy marsh? Dry, windy, and hot? Rocky, not wet?) have developed, for which none are the clear answer. It is obvious that we will not be able to solve this great mystery without certainty about the early Earth environment. But no matter what the early Earth environment consisted of, there must have been the process - the process from amino acid to replicating molecule to organized cell, which is another fascinating leap itself.

Miller's Setup (NASA)

Creation of the Northern and Southern Lights Revealed

The intense burning heat of the Sun constantly showers the Earth with a downpour of free electrons and positive ions (called the solar wind). The Earth is protected from this in part by its magnetosphere, a region in space experiencing a strong magnetic field. Physicists speak of this region as having magnetic field "lines" so as to more easily explain its properties. These lines are used conceptually to represent the forces and energies that make up and interact with the magnetic fields; similar to how a topographical map is filled with lines whose inter-distances represent land mass height.

The magnetosphere stores energy from the solar wind and swells larger with increasing energy storage. As it swells outwards, the gap between the magnetic field lines (conceptually) lessens and soon a critical point is reached where the two lines reconnect. When this limit is surpassed, the charged particles are sent flying back towards Earth where they collide with atoms and molecules in the atmosphere creating beautiful light shows. The color of light created corresponds with the types of atoms excited; atomic oxygen can create green and red displays while molecular and ionic nitrogen produce colors in the low red to high blue/violet range.

On February 26, 2008 the 5 NASA THEMIS (Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms) satellites were aligned along the equator when an instance of Aurora Borealis began. While the satellites took measurements from space, 20 ground observatories recorded the Northern Lights along with the bombardment of particles into the atmosphere. These findings provide the first simultaneous space and ground measurements of substorm beginnings, showing magnetic reconnection as the cause.

See NASA's article here.

Intriguing Finds: Research Spinoffs and Successes

After a recent interview I conducted with Joan Vernikos, former Director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division, I was inspired to look deeper into an aspect of NASA that I had not thought about before.  What products/inventions have stemmed from the Agency’s research?  What did I find?  A lot of Spinoffs and Successes.  Spinoffs are NASA research findings which influence new technology development or applications of new knowledge.  Successes are not product focused, but provide public benefits in other ways.  One “success” I found was a process to help save valuable fire-damaged art. 

Many think of products associated with spaceflight, such as Tang which was made famous by John Glenn or the use of Velcro by astronauts to hold down instruments in zero gravity environments, as NASA inventions.  This view is based on myth, since they were not inventions by NASA.  Nor was the cordless power tool, though one was created when Black & Decker collaborated with NASA to develop a tool usable for astronauts while working outside a spacecraft.

Reportedly, to date NASA has filed approximately 6,300 patents with the U.S. government, and since 1976 has 1,400 documented inventions which have benefited the public.  Some “spinoffs” include:  kidney dialysis machines, freeze-dried food, memory foam, ear thermometers, water-purification technology, scratch resistant glasses, safety grooves in concrete runways and roads, and the popular invisible braces. 

The latest posted inductee (2007) into the Space Technology Hall of Fame is a developed NASA technology that benefits the environment.  This winning technology, Emulsified Zero-Valent Iron (EZVI), neutralizes toxic chemicals:  specifically, dense non-aqueous phase liquids (DNAPLs) which are chemicals used widely in manufacturing businesses. 

DNAPLs are difficult to detect and can irreparably contaminate soil and groundwater.  As explained on the Space Technology Hall of Fame website, “EZVI uses iron particles in an environmentally friendly oil and water base to neutralize toxic chemicals.”  Originally created to counteract DNAPLs being used to flush rocket engines, it is now being used by several companies who have been issued non-exclusive licenses for the use of EZVI’s to clean up contaminations.

These finds have been worth my research, because not only do they validate how space research can benefit the general public, but each of the products and technologies has an intriguing story behind it.  Most fascinating to me was the explanation of the ear thermometer being a spinoff of technology initially used to detect the birth of stars! 




Underwater Walking Octopuses

Published in the March 25, 2005 issue of Science is the first discovery of a soft-bodied animal to walk on two limbs.

Researchers at U.C. Berkeley discovered two types of small octopuses walking along the ocean floor. These octopuses used their back pair of legs to slowly retreat backwards away from predators. The remaining six arms were held up around the octopus to disguise it as either a coconut or a clump of floating algae, allowing the octopus to slowly back away camouflaged and facing the predator. Generally, octopuses crawl along the ocean floor through the pushing and pulling of all or most of their eight arms.

Robert Full, coauthor on the paper, believes that the octopuses are able to perform these sophisticated movements as reflexes through the autonomous nerve control available in each individual arm. He hopes that continued study on the underlying mechanics will influence the field of soft robotics.

DARPA has funded research in soft robotics in an effort to create soft-bodied biodegradable robots capable of dramatic shape shifting in order to navigate complex environments such as small cracks in buildings.


Fishy Evolutionary Puzzle Solved!


Ever since their discovery, flatfish have baffled scientists with their unique anatomy and lifestyle. They live as bottom feeders, lying flat on their side on the sea floor. For many types of flatfish, their top side is camouflaged to fit their surroundings while their bottom side is pale or has an underdeveloped fin. Another shocking component of the flatfish is that the hair cells in the inner ear, which are responsible for keeping balance, are rotated so that swimming sideways feels natural. The most shocking feature of flatfish though is their asymmetric eye structure. Young flatfish have normally placed eyes, on each side of their head but as they mature into adulthood, one eye migrates to the opposite side. As a result of this, they are among one of the few examples of asymmetry in vertebrates. All of these anatomical components are extremely advantageous to the fish’s lifestyle, aiding in their ability to catch smaller fish by blending easily into the deep sea environment.

Previously, no fish with an intermediate eye placement had been discovered, either alive or dead. Due to this, flatfish have fueled significant evolutionary debate. Creationists have insisted that the lack of an intermediary form is evidence against evolution and for intelligent design. They have used this example to insist that a higher power intentionally (and instantly) created flatfish.

Matt Friedman, a graduate student at the University of Chicago, has recently published an article in the journal Nature that possibly solves this evolutionary puzzle. While glancing through fossil records dating back 45 million years, he recognized early forms of the flatfish that had been previously overlooked (named Heteronectes and Amphistium). Using CT scanning technology, he scanned the bone structure around the eyes. Both fossils cited in the study had incomplete eye migration, so that one of the eyes had migrated but did not reach the opposite side of the head. The CT scans also confirmed the mature ages of the fish due to their size and bone density. The images showed an absence of damage or deformity, ruling them out as causes of the intermediary eye location. These fossils suggest a gradual evolutionary adaptation for the eye migration of the fish and are evidence against a sudden species appearance or change.

Famous creationist Frank Sherwin found this finding “underwhelming”.

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