Lab Report

April 2, 2020
No. 130

Our collective work on the world’s thorniest problems must continue.

Plus: STEM at home, virtual communities, and kidney care moonshots.

Featured story


Science doesn’t stop

While much of the world is rightfully focused on the coronavirus pandemic, it would be a mistake to halt innovation on other fronts. Our collective work on the world’s thorniest problems must continue. 

Last month, six innovator teams joined Phase 3 of MagQuest, a $2.1 million competition to advance how we measure Earth’s magnetic field. With MagQuest, the National-Geospatial Intelligence Agency is accelerating novel approaches to geomagnetic data collection for the World Magnetic Model. The challenge, designed and produced by Luminary Labs through a contract with the NASA Tournament Lab, was featured in WIRED this week.

The World Magnetic Model (WMM) is critical infrastructure. Compasses are oriented by the magnetic force at a user’s location, and since geographic and magnetic poles do not align, geomagnetic models like the WMM correct for this difference. It’s used by both civilians and the military — in more than a billion smartphones, as well as submarines, satellites, and aircraft. While GPS tells you where you are located, a compass uses the Earth’s magnetic field to tell you which direction you’re facing. But geographic and magnetic poles do not align, and the Earth’s magnetic field is constantly changing. The WMM accounts for this difference and helps us navigate — whether it’s an essential trip to the grocery store or a critical delivery of supplies from the other side of the globe. 

As Sarah Scoles writes in WIRED, “Your ability to move about the world without getting lost actually depends on these measurements.” Over the next several months, MagQuest’s Phase 3 teams will iterate and refine their designs and testing plans for data collection methodologies. Later this year, the judging panel will nominate Phase 3 winners, and the challenge will award $900,000 in cash prizes.

Insights & updates

Our COVID-19 open innovation index is updated with more than 75 initiatives to address the global pandemic. The CovidX digest includes a daily roundup of new additions — as well as a rundown of opportunities to connect frontline healthcare workers with funders, innovators, and government leaders. Sign up to receive daily updates.  

Nearly 37 million Americans are living with kidney disease, and a kidney care moonshot is long overdue.

“The best community programs have always been a hybrid of online and offline.” Our current moment offers an opportunity to experiment with virtual formats and offer more inclusive programming.

A new NASA at Home repository brings multimedia resources and interactive activities to learners of all ages, and Surrey Satellites is offering downloadable STEM activity kits for at-home learning. 

Cool jobs & opportunities

The World Science Festival is searching for its third cohort of World Science Scholars. Nominate students or invite them to apply directly by April 30.
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