“So, Rolex gives out scholarships or “awards” now?”
Well, if you wanna’ look at it from a painfully basic perspective, yes. The Rolex Awards, which was established in 1976, has funded a total of 140 Laureates to date. However, I wasn’t aware that this programme was intended as a one-off during its inception. According to the history books, the Awards was organized to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Rolex Oyster but drew so much attention that André J. Heiniger, then chairman, decided to implement it as an on-going venture.
Just to cement how committed Rolex is to changing the world, get this. Over the years, projects carried out by the Laureates have resulted in a total of 18 million trees being planted, 23 endangered species and 17 major ecosystems successfully protected. The latter includes a 57,600 km² region of the Amazon rainforest. In addition, 13 expeditions have been completed along with the development of 27 innovative technologies for a myriad of applications.
Now, I don’t know about you but I don’t think I’ve ever come across a “scholarship”, “grant” or awards programme that has benefited approximately 5 million people all around the world. I mean, come on! Seriously?! I can’t even improve the lives of 5 guinea pigs or my own so hats off to you guys!
“Can I apply?”
Yes, you can! Here’s where the Rolex Awards differs from other similar initiatives. I’m not even kidding here, guys. There are no restrictions on academic or professional requirements, gender or nationality. With that said, candidates have to be over 18 years of age. If you have a recipe for a miracle boba that will cure diabetes, do apply. Please, I’m begging you!
If you think I’m being dramatic now, get a load of this. Among the Awards Laureates are a Parisian taxi driver who became a world authority on Nepalese ground beetles. Heck, I don’t even know ground beetles had nationalities. Moving on, each of the five chosen Rolex Awards Laureates receives a grant (d’uh!), a Rolex chronometer, worldwide publicity and membership to the network of past Laureates.
“Maybe boba isn’t as awards-worthy as I thought…”
Unfortunately, you’re most likely right thinking that. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t think a cancer-curing boba drink is going to line up nicely next to the 2019 Awards Laureates and their projects. Without further ado, introducing the men and women who will be changing the world for the better.
First off, we have João Campos-Silva. Hailing from Brazil, the 36-year old is out to save the world’s largest scaled freshwater fish, the giant arapaima. Sadly, the arapaima, which weighs up to 200 kg, is headed for extinction due to overfishing and loss of habitat. However, Campos-Silva has a plan to save the arapaima and with it, the livelihoods of rural communities that depend on the region’s rivers.
By closing small, river-connected lakes on the Juruá River to fishing and combining efficient fishery management techniques, there has been a 30-fold increase in arapaima numbers. The manatees, giant otters, giant turtles and black caiman are also coming back as a result of the increased arapaima numbers.
Furthermore, the recovery in arapaima numbers has resulted in improved catches. Each lake now yields an average of US$9,000 in added yearly income for local communities. This, in turn, has enhanced life with the addition of schools, increased healthcare and more employment opportunities. On top of that, Campos-Silva is looking to recruit local teachers to promote arapaima protection awareness to 400 youngsters. To add to that, he also aims to empower women as income-earning fishers and fisheries managers.
“Wow… Way to go to make us all feel inadequate.”
Well, if I’m being honest, you’re going to feel a lot more than just inadequate by the time you reach the end. Moving on, let’s meet Grégoire Courtine. He’s a 44-year old French medical scientist who now resides in Switzerland. His project? An implantable electronic neuroprosthetic “bridge” that lays between the brain and lumbar spinal cord of a paralyzed patient. In the long run, Courtine aims to help paralyzed patients walk again.
Now, I will be honest with you. I’m no medical expert so I’ll try my best to break this technology down for you. The aforementioned electronic “bridge” is supported by wireless connectivity and links pulses from “the brain controlling voluntary movement with electrical stimulation of the lower spinal cord.” Said bridge aims to “restore immediate voluntary control over leg
muscles in conjunction with gait-supported rehabilitation.” As a result, this will encourage the regrowth of spinal nerves. In the long run, the patient will have permanent control over the paralyzed leg muscles, effectively negating the need for the bridge.
So far, Courtine has helped seven long-term paraplegic men stand and walk short distances. The next step is to begin clinical trials involving three patients who have been paralyzed for a year. Three patients will have the bridge surgically-implanted and it’ll feature electrical stimulation patterns tailored individually for them. With data collected from this trial, Courtine is hoping to establish the framework for a fully implantable brain-spine module that may become commonplace in helping individuals with spinal injuries.
“… and now we’re saving animals and humans at the same time?!”
I guess it’s true when they say that some people are destined for greatness. Just take a look at Krithi Karanth. The 40-year old conservationist from India is responsible for the establishment of a toll-free service that allows villagers to phone in for compensation when they suffer losses as a result of wildlife-human conflict. As her home country heads for the title of most populous nation, it is a worrying fact that only 5% of its terrain is reserved for nature. Yet, India is home to 70% of the world’s tiger population and 50% of Asian elephants. To add to that, we’ve not even factored in the rest such as leopards and whatnot.
Taking that into account, we can totally understand why it is so common to hear of wildlife-human conflict happening all over a fast-developing India. With livestock injured or killed plus crops destroyed, it’s only a matter of time before humans themselves exact revenge killing on these innocent animals. Every year, the Indian government hands out US$5 million to compensate farmers and villagers. However, Karanth estimates that the 80,000 cases compensated merely represents the tip of the iceberg of actual conflicts.
Her solution? Wild Seve. Currently serving half a million people in 600 villages near Bandipur and Nagarahole parks in the state of Karnataka, the toll-free service provides assistance to villagers in filing for compensation. In the near future, Karanth has plans to expand the Wild Seve project to 3 more parks and 1,000 more villages. Aside from that, Karanth also plans to run, in parallel, the Wild Shaale programme. A total of 300 schools in high-conflict zones will have the conservation education programme incorporated within. She believes (and we all do, I believe) that improving local attitudes and awareness is critical for the bigger picture.
“I’m personally convinced the next two Laureates own the greatest timepiece in the world…”
The Time-Turner. You know, the one from Harry Potter? Let’s be realistic here. How else can you be this young and accomplished?! How? We all have 24 hours in one day so that has to be the only logical explanation. Hailing from Uganda, meet 26-year old IT specialist, Brian Gitta. His mission? To fight malaria with his invention, the “Matiscope”. See, the key to defeating malaria is fast diagnosis. At this point in time, diagnosis requires a blood sample, a microscope and a trained analyst. Unfortunately, not all of these are readily available in remote and developing regions. According to the WHO, 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia shoulder almost 80% of the world’s malaria burden.
Worldwide, about 220 million people are suffering from malaria and nearly half a million – mostly children – will die from it. Gitta’s “Matiscope” hopes to significantly reduce that number by providing a non-invasive diagnosis procedure in less than 2 minutes, compared to the usual half an hour of a regular microscopy. The “Matiscope” is a portable electronic device and all patients have to do is insert “a clean finger to have their malaria status read.” It combines the use of lights and magnets “to detect the presence of the malaria parasite” which “sheds crystals of a substance called hemozoin.” Now, because these crystals have an iron atom at its core, the crystals are magnetic.
“So… we’re using the concept of… Magneto?!”
Yeap! “The Matiscope uses magnets to detect whether these crystals are present in the patient’s blood. At the same time, a light beam shone on the finger measures changes in colour, shape or concentration of red blood cells that are the physical signs of malaria.” Artificial intelligence is used to combine the results to yield a rapid diagnosis which can be hard to detect in early phases of the disease.
The current prototype is accurate to 80% but Gitta needs it to be closer to 90% for it to be effective in the field. More than 300 patients are undergoing tests with the “Matiscope” as part of phase 2 of its clinical trials. Should it be a success, Gitta plans to roll it out to “more than 1,000 people” and “deliver it to hospitals throughout Uganda, and then into neighbouring countries such as Kenya.”
“Last but not least…”
Let’s meet Canadian entrepreneur and molecular biologist, Miranda Wang. The California-based 25-year old wants to “recycle the unrecyclables” by turning plastic waste into valuable chemicals for manufacturing. Via a unique chemical recycling technology, developed by her company BioCellection, Wang aims to recycle single-use plastics and other unrecyclables into renewable, quality chemicals. These chemicals, now worth millions, are then marketed to manufacturing companies “to make durable materials for products that we all love and use every day.”
Among BioCellection’s achievements include using a technology to break down polyethylene (PE) plastic into precursor chemicals. The end result is, according to them, “worth billions of dollars.” By the way, PE plastic represents one third of all plastic produced so we’re talking a massive amount here. Wang’s technology is said to be much cheaper than extracting the same substance from petroleum and has resulted in a “40-fold increase in the value of plastic waste.” Fantastic. Now companies have a legit reason to recycle.
“Currently there are almost no technologies that work on the really dirty plastics,” Wang explains. “These plastics are so low grade that it doesn’t make sense for people to clean them and make a new product out of them. We’ve invented a new process that’s sustainable and economical for making high-value industrial chemicals from these plastics. We’ve been able to demonstrate that
the product is of the same quality as that made from virgin oil.”
By 2023, Wang and her team are targeting to recycle 45,500 tonnes of plastic waste. This, in turn, will eliminate 320,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions.
“In all seriousness though, if you think you have what it takes to be the next Laureate…”
Applications are now open for the Rolex Awards for Enterprise 2021. Remember, you don’t need to have an outstanding CV or come from money. With that said, just make sure you’ve got a solid proposal and an idea that’ll change the world. No pressure, then. Head on over here for more information on how to apply.