A Technology Edison Would Love: The Solar Sponge

Fix this picture in your mind:

  • A four inch disk
  • Resembles a dirty sponge
  • Floats on water
  • Converts 85% of incoming sunlight to steam!

A Technology Edison Would Love: The Solar SpongeBorn at MIT, this new material, known as a “solar sponge” is far more efficient at converting water to steam – generating steam using a 10X solar concentration input, the lowest solar concentration ever for steam generation.

The dirty part of the sponge is attributable to graphite flakes, specially treated, which absorbs the solar energy. The bottom of the sponge has a coating of carbon foam to provide an insulating effect.

Making steam in a laboratory beakerThis technology holds great potential for solar thermal power generation, as well as desalination; and could be used in hygiene and sterilization applications. It could be a game-changer for water treatment in isolated, impoverished areas-essentially small-scale technology for producing potable water. Each year close to 50,000 people a year in Africa die from ingesting polluted water, so something like the solar sponge would be a much welcome technology.

Editor’s Deep Dive

Thomas Edison on Time MagazineThomas Edison said … “I find out what the world needs. Then I go ahead and try to invent it.”

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Edison-Einstein-Disney: Three of a Kind

BREAKING NEWS: Edison and Einstein appear in cameo shots in a trailer promotion for Disney’s new film, “Tomorrow Land”, a movie to premier soon in Japan. George Clooney stars in the movie. 

Edison-Einstein-Disney: Three of a Kind

When you hear these names your mind naturally associates them with people who changed the world. They tend to bring smiles to your heart and mind-three men who did some really cool things; and who shared some very interesting commonalities you can read about below.

  • All three had issues with formal schooling-experiencing problems with the emphasis on rote memory; and little room for other ways of learning. They
    may have all suffered from dyslexia, and related learning problems.
  • These great achievers valued hard work, creativity and imagination in their pursuits.
  • Persistence characterized their work, bringing forth ideas in spite of repeated failures; and learning through failure.
  • With an eye on the future, these innovators knew how valuable it was to be pushing the envelope of thought; and doing so in the service of humanity.
  • They all went beyond conventional problem solving– ”disruptors”, as we would say today.
  • Read and learned from a wide variety of fields and literature.
  • Kept advancing and refining their ideas.
  • Were playful, humorous, and even played practical jokes on friends/co-workers.

Consider some quotes from these gentle, giant, applicators:


“I never perfected an invention that I did not think about in terms of the service it might give others… I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent …“

“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”

“Surprises and reverses can serve as an incentive for great accomplishment. There are no rules here, we’re just trying to accomplish something”




“Try to become not a man of success, but try rather to become a man of value.”

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

“The aim [of education] must be the training of independently acting and thinking individuals who, however, see in the service to the community their highest life problem.”




“If you can dream it, you can do it.” [Walt once quipped, the whole Disney adventure started with a mouse and a dream.]

“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”


Thomas Edison on Time Magazine

Thomas Edison said, “If we all did the things we are really capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves …”

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Thomas Edison on Inventing

Do you know what makes you feel inventive-the kinds of settings, types of relevant problems to solve, and creative people you love to work with? Can you remain tenacious toward solving a problem, not resting until a solution or new prototype is developed and tested? If so, you are in league with the Edison philosophy.

“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”

Thomas Edison had four giant inventions-recorded sound, motion pictures, the light bulb and the electric utility system … and commercial R&D labs … or the invention factory as he called it (which probably was his most significant of all). The invention factory codified the process of invention-R&D at a commercial scale. Before Edison died in 1931, most great companies at that time developed their own R&D labs to mimic his success.

“My desire is to do everything within my power to free people from drudgery and create the largest measure of happiness and prosperity.”

The invention factory concept ushered in several important things: Making project management a powerful new business ethic-Edison typically managed and led 30-40 new product development teams at a time. It fused economic progress with technological innovation-what we refer to today as “progress”. And, it extended indefinitely, the industrial revolution of the late 1880s. Experts came from all over the world to study Edison’s process of invention.

Thomas Edison on Inventing“Anything that won’t sell, I don’t want to invent. Its sale is proof of utility, and utility is success.”

Edison inspired all who worked for him to create a minor invention every ten days and major one every six months. At his legendary West Orange labs, his project teams enjoyed work space, the company of fellow inventors, ample supplies and equipment to work with, talented machinists, and plenty of consultation with the “old man himself”. He even provided flexible work hours-as long as the work got done. Today, it is fashionable to talk about “makerspaces”, places where inventors can gather to rapidly prototype new things. Well, guess what? That is nothing more than a modern twist on the old invention factory-perhaps housed in a bright shiny new lab or portable work space. Amazing how the Edison invention process endures!

Thomas Edison on Time MagazineThomas Edison said, “I find out what the world needs. Then I go ahead and try to invent it.”

Time® is a registered trademark of Time Inc.