“From the beginning of our history, Alaskans have relied on innovation. Surviving cold, dark and distance requires constant creativity. Our extreme environment and unique challenges have made our people inventors, and our land has been a center of natural observation and a proving ground for new technologies. Everything we do in Alaska is knowledge-based: the prosperity of our culture, preservation of our environment, and economic growth depend upon sound science and inventive thinking. We understand that our resources include not just what’s beneath our feet, but what’s between our ears”. — Former Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell’s introduction to the Alaska Science and Technology Plan, which was entitled “To Build a Fire.”
When updating the state science and technology plan in 2013, Alaska leaders on the State Committee for Research (SCoR) wanted a way to inspire innovative Alaskans and at the same time, recognize the great achievements of Alaskans past and present. Although impossible to capture all of the past pioneering advances, the SCoR selected 22 Alaskans as the inaugural members of the Alaska Innovators Hall of Fame. Their stories were captured in Ned Rozell’s book, “Northern Innovators.”
The 22 members who made up the initial cohort in the Innovators Hall of Fame were inducted into the Hall of Fame as part of events hosted by the Fairbanks and Anchorage Economic Development Corporations in Fairbanks (2014) and Anchorage (2015), respectively. This year, seven new members will join the cohort when they are inducted into the Innovators Hall of Fame as part of the 2017 Innovation Summit in Juneau. The Innovation Summit, held on Feb. 15-16, is an annual event produced by the Juneau Economic Development Council to foster collaboration, productivity and prosperity in Alaska. This year the summit is focused on entrepreneurs and those involved in building the innovation ecosystem in Alaska.
The Alaska Innovators Hall of Fame honors individuals who put Alaska on the map, those who have led in innovation and contribute to Alaska’s growing culture of innovation. The seven individuals honored this year have devoted their careers to innovations in their respective fields. The seven individuals joining the Hall of Fame include:
• Sandro Lee — Founder of Alaska Protein Recovery, a company devoted to recovering fish oil, fish protein and other new products from salmon-processing waste. Lane developed a cold-pressed and extra-virgin fish oil sold under the Pure Alaska Omega brand, which ranks among the most popular brands of Omega-3 fish oils in the country. His decision to salvage salmon parts that were otherwise lost to sea changed the industry and showed a new way of doing business in Alaska.
• Rajive Ganguli — Professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) developed mill simulator software as part of the university’s program for training mill operators for large-scale mines. Ganguli’s team created a software-based training tool to enhance a 12-week program to prepare students for employment operating mill equipment in large mines. Because of Ganguli’s development, UAF’s mine training program is the only one with such a customized, time-saving tool.
• Jeff Rothman — UAF Geophysical Institute Electronics Shop supervisor improved and patented a tiny infrasound sensor sensitive enough to detect volcanic eruptions or nuclear explosions from distant locations. Rothman has also engineered solutions for researchers who launch rockets into the aurora, for those who study glaciers, and for flyers of unmanned aerial vehicles. He also designed an electric field probe for atmospheric scientists, tested and helped develop ejectable payloads for NASA sounding rockets, supervised the operation of a Department of Energy particle accelerator and redesigned a prototype human kidney perfusion apparatus.
• Brian Shumaker — CEO of BeadedStream LLC, invented a system that gives engineers and scientists detailed temperature readings of arctic installations from anywhere in the world. Shumaker’s development has allowed reliable, web-enabled continuous access to ground temperature data beneath structures. Shumaker’s system has maximized industry access to remote sites via tundra travel while at the same time preserving the tundra.
• Peter Webley — Associate Research Professor of the remote sensing group at UAF’s Geophysical Institute developed tools to predict the drift of volcanic ash and assess its impact on daily operations. These tools help engineers, strategists and risk analysts make quick operational decisions after the volcano observatory releases notice of an eruption.
• Geoff and Marcy Larson — The owners of Alaskan Brewing Company have built one of the greenest breweries anywhere with their “beer-powered beer” process. This process has saved more than 80,000 gallons of No. 2 diesel fuel each year by using their spent brewing grains to power a steam boiler of their own invention. Rather than barging out the spent grain or overwhelming the Juneau landfill, the brewery burns the dried product to create steam that powers their entire operation. Not only are they keeping hills of grain out of the waste stream, they save $450,000 annually.
As the stories illustrate, Alaskans are inventors, creators of new technology, risk takers and problem solvers. Alaska is a proving ground for new technology and Alaskans lead the way in developing science and technology to meet the challenges of the Great Land. It is Alaskan ingenuity and a vast tradition of innovation that will benefit Alaska’s future.
Read more about the Alaskans featured in the Innovators Hall of Fame at www.alaska.edu/research/research/scor/ak-innovators/.
• Daniel White is the co-chair of the State Committee for Research and Vice President for Academic Affairs and Research at the University of Alaska.