Meet inventor Lowell Wood. He's 74, 6 ft.2, reddish grey beard, paunchy, and his very friendly, easy-going, laughing sort of smile. suggests "happy guy."
As the main inventor at "Intellectual Ventures," a research and patent firm that he founded, he's paying himself to think -- to develop products that might address some of the world's pressing needs.
This guy is an astrophysicist, self-trained paleontologist, (a person who studies fossils), computer scientist, and undoubtedly among most prolific inventors in history. When Thomas Edison died, he had 1,084 patents. This guy has 1,085 and he's very proud of that fact -- you hear it when you're talking with him. Actually, conversing with him, mostly, you are listening. He talks a lot. He digresses into physics, space lasers, pestilence, rockets, whale oil, lithography, fracking, and remembering minute details -- wars.
At the beginning of his career, he assisted Edmund Teller, the father of the Hydrogen bomb, and also worked on Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars," developing an anti-ballistic missile system that would prevent attacks from countries like Russia. But most of his 3000 pending patents are whimsical things -- a laser based shaver, a microwave that can customize its power for whatever is on a plate, a low-power clothes dryer, an anti-collision system for cars, anti- concussion helmet for footballers, a thermos for preserving vaccines, most recently, a device that creates medical gear "conferencing," so that patients can leave a hospital and use various machines at home.
Microsoft's former boss, Bill Gates, admiring him, said, "He's a polymath. (person of a wide range of learning.) It's not just what he knows, but how his brain works. He gives himself the freedom to look at problems in a different way. To me that's the mark of a great inventor."
Being that my husband and son love football, I'm interested in what this inventor is doing about concussions.
Lowell Wood said, "I didn't know the first thing about a concussion. I thought it was just brain slamming against the interior of the skull, particularly violently. Basically, that has nothing to do what a real concussion is. Concussion occurs by the brain being very rapidly twisted inside the skull -- the angle of the acceleration. It's the time rate of change, and the speed of the twist that tears neural fibers apart -- a ghastly sort of thing. It literally just rips the nervous system apart. If you do the same thing again a week or two later, or an hour or two later, heaven help you. The damage becomes more severe, and takes longer to heal. If you do it three times in a bad afternoon on the soccer field or football field, the damage is likely to be permanent."
Wood's anti-concussion solution: "Sensors in the helmet trigger a mechanism that fuses the player's helmet and shoulder pads; spikes shoot down from the helmet to keep the head from turning." Wood won't reveal who approached him to work on helmet technology until the invention has been patented and actually being manufactured.
To my un polymath mind, it seems awfully complicated. And similarly, Wood's ideas about fixing global warming seem very far out. He says global warning can be stopped relatively quickly and inexpensively through geoengineering -- suggested using high altitude balloons to release particles of sulfur to provide shade for the planet. His other idea: "sink the atmosphere's carbon-dioxide into the deep ocean or push the warm water on the top layer of the ocean down to the bottom."
Inventor Wood said (somewhat comfortingly), "There is little chance that global warming would wipe out the species," and pointed out, "There are plenty of ideas. It's frankly illiterate not to be optimistic. We're going to see a blossoming across every front, in human technological history. This is not something that's hoped for. This is baked in the cake."
Golly, I hope so. My ears are perked up. I'm banishing my instinctive response to new, often wildly different solutions. Didn't Edison came up with amazing, inconceivable inventions? Hey, Wood is telling us, even if it seems inconceivable -- proceed -- no matter how wildly, weirdly strange the ingredients are, taste the cake.