Saul Griffith: Renaissance man on a mission
An inventor, entrepreneur and MacArthur Foundation fellow, Griffith is engaged in several endeavors that have the potential to affect the lives of billions of people.
Wed, May 09 2012 at 1:16 AM
LOTS OF INTERESTS: Saul Griffith is currently pursuing projects in solar energy, robotics and automated design tools. (Photo: kk/Flickr)
Saul Griffith gives new meaning to the term “multi-tasking.” But when you’re trying to change the world, it’s not unusual to have a few balls in the air.
His right-to-the-point website belies an interest in all scientific things new and interesting. From an early age, Griffith has been in a state he describes as “busy and happy” while solving problems and inventing new things.
Born to an academic family in Australia, Griffith first made his mark at MIT as a graduate student, winning the Collegiate Inventors Competition for a portable machine that could make low-cost prescription eyeglasses for people in the developing world.
Griffith explained that he created the machine with “stuff I could find around the house.” While most of us see something in life that doesn’t work the way we think it should, Griffith takes hold and fixes it, or comes up with a way to reinvent it.
He has gone on to complete a number of degrees and set up shop (actually, several shops) in San Francisco to accomplish many missions. Among them, he hopes to bring open-source information to as many people as possible. The goal is to spur creativity to make science and inventing more accessible to everyone.
Such a far-fetched idea might be dismissed as puerile — but people take Griffith's efforts seriously. In 2007, he received a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (a.k.a. a genius grant), which bestows an unrestricted $500,000 to “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” As quoted in his TED Talks introduction, “Griffith makes things and then shares his ideas with the world.”
As seriously as the world takes Griffith and his work, he seems to be taking it all in.
“Life is short and there are a lot of great things to work on,” he explains. “I try not to get stuck. So, even when I'm procrastinating, I'm working on something else interesting. I wouldn't really say I'm moving in a lot of different directions. To me, everything makes complete sense and one project seamlessly flows into the next, but the intellectual connections are not always obvious to outsiders.”
For the next generation, Griffith says he is currently pursuing projects in solar energy, robotics and automated design tools. Within these categories and more, Griffith works on a children’s comic strip series called Howtoons, which encourages kids to find new ways to use common household items such as soda bottles, duct tape and mop buckets.
In addition to those other projects, Griffith says renewable energy is a topic that’s always top of mind, along with finding ways to make it cheaper and more efficient.
“I often dream with my wife about what we might both do when we ‘retire’ (the rhetorical retire),” Griffith tells MNN. “She wants to study botany and plant illustration while I'd like to study the genotype/phenotype problem in plants (why genetic code translates to such different physical specimens). We imagine that we might be able to live this dream in a house that is more like a greenhouse mutated with a biochemistry lab. It is probably not what we'll end up doing, but dreaming is important.”
Indeed, it is. How else can you expect to change the world?
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