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MLaaSP- What’s your idea?

October 12, 2011

Today is October 10, 2011. The World Population is 6,967,421,612

This week is Chicago Ideas Week, an event where thinkers, innovators from all walks of life come to share & discuss ideas that make our world a happier place to live. It was fitting that I attended a lecture at Adler Planetarium last week in which the speaker had an idea that will eventually affect your life. The lecture was called Exoplanets: searching for the companions of distant stars. Astrophysicist Dr. Jason Steffen spoke about the search for planets outside of our solar system. Chicago ScienceUsing state-of-the-art telescopes, scientists are on the verge of identifying planets which might support life. He highlighted some studies which appeared on the cover of the prestigious research journals Science and Nature.  I exptected to learn about astroseismological analysis, red shifts, and astrometry, but I did not expect to discuss a revolutionary idea about boarding airplanes.

After the talk, Dr. Steffen worked the audience–he shook hands, was very friendly, and accepted any questions. Always in the mood for an intriuging conversation with a cool scientist, I didn’t hesitate to initiate dialogue (this is NOT verbatim):

Tom: Were you involved with the Science or Nature studies?

Dr. Steffen: No. But I was recently published in the Journal of Air Transport Management.

Tom: Say what? You’re an astrophysicist, how does studying stars and planets land you in that journal?

Dr. Steffen: Data was slow one month. So I decided to solve a problem with my free time.

Tom: Such a typical scientist.

To summarize his report, recall the last time you boarded an airplane. Remember standing in line waiting to board? The terminal is hot & stuffy, you’re surrounded by strangers, and anxious to find room for your baggage. This process costs you and airlines valuable time. My life as a science promoter So, Dr. Steffen, annoyed with wasting time, wrote a computer simulation program to determine the most efficient system to board a passenger airplane. His research report took off and appeared in Business Week and Popular Science, is included on a potential new TV show, This vs That, and at the moment is scheduled to appear on NBC’s newest show Rock Center with Brian Williams.

This comes as no shock to me. Scientists are paid to identify and solve problems. What amazes me about this story is Dr. Steffen’s ambition to solve a problem for which he wasn’t being paid. He took an idea and turned it into a solution. So I was thinking…you don’t need to be a scientist to identify a problem (surely you’ve all noticed slow boarding times) and you don’t need to be paid to solve a problem. Look around your life. Do you notice any problems or inefficiencies? So, my question to you: what’s your idea? 

Thanks for reading, letUbeU!

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